Monday, 9 April 2012

La Quattro Volte

Where better to watch a beautiful, artfully presented gem like La Quattro Volte than north Leeds’ premier arthouse cinema, The Hyde Park Picture House? Relaxing into the comfortable surroundings with a cuppa it was entirely possible to become lost in the stunning scenery and intimate details of the film. Or at least it was until a female customer admonished a sweet-rustling gentleman for his noise-making. Thankfully he accepted his ticking-off with good grace.

It’s a film about everything and nothing. There is virtually no dialogue but for muffled voices in the distance, no through-plot, no heroes or heroines. It touches on themes of religion and faith, reincarnation and the values of tradition. But these are subtle suggestions and the audience is left to interpret them as they will.

Every shot is beautiful, every movement of either the camera or its subject is deliberate. The first act is filmed in totally static shots, often in intimate close up. They show an elderly goatherd tending his flock. He’s desperately ill, coughing and spluttering from one day to the next. In providing such an intimate snapshot of his humble life, director Michelangelo Frammartino has created a truly captivating character study filled with outstandingly framed shots: not least a lingering view of an ant crawling across the old man’s face.

Having been captivated by the shepherd’s place in his rural community he departs in a set piece of great ingenuity and intricacy. Filmed in a single shot it features a vicious dog, an Easter parade and goat-pen being demolished by a runaway car. It’s a wonderfully choreographed and manages to be both touching and hilarious – and a lesson for any aspiring filmmaker in using a visual medium to tell a story.

Thereafter the camera sweeps in and out of the action, tracking the goats on their journey to pasture, following the townsfolk as they transport a felled tree back to the village and observing the ritualistic production of charcoal which ensures the film ends where it began – offering a pleasing circularity to the narrative.

La Quattro Volte is certainly not a film for everyone. It exists somewhere between art, documentary and philosophy, representing as it does the four stages of life outlined by the most famous of Calabria’s sons: Pythagoras. He spoke of the four lives within us: human, animal, vegetable and mineral. And all of these are represented as the story (such as it is) moves from man to goat, then tree to charcoal.

But the underlying meaning is secondary to the experience. The stunning cinematography, sedate pace, evocative sounds and sense of tradition are what makes this truly original, poignant, funny and remarkable film a welcome antidote to the multiplex dross served up in Leeds’ more mainstream cinemas.

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