Somewhat reminiscent of Franco Piavoli’s work, Michelangelo Frammartino’s Four Times is a pseudo-documentary, or partial-documentary, set in the hills of Calabria in southernmost Italy. In a rural village, little talk goes on (and none, apparently, necessary to subtitle) and the silence is constantly interrupted, sometimes humorously, by barking dogs, bleating goats, collar bells, church bells and the sounds of assorted tools in use. Another nagging sound is an elderly goat herder’s stubborn cough, signaling (in cinematic shorthand) his imminent end. This indeed occurs, flanked by related humorous events. The first is his inability to take medicine one night because the doors of the village church are locked; it is from dust on the church floor that the old man is used to extracting his “medicine,” which he consumes dissolved in water like Alka Seltzer. In short, separated from the mixture he has been relying on, the old man feels, himself, as good as dead. Once his coffin is lifted into its hillside resting-place, a sharp cut signals the other humorous event: the birth of a goat. The juxtaposition announces the round of life that embraces death and birth both. But the funnier explanation, of course, is that the newborn goat is the reincarnation of “the old goat,” the goat herder. A bit later, when the infant stands up on its long, spindly legs, and Mama Goat hovers protectively close, poignancy deepens the humor. This is a rare film indeed—especially if one likes goats.
The film’s final movement is devoted to human labor, a community’s pulling together for a vital collective task. Its purposefulness gladdens our hearts over what we see and, also, what we recall: a gaggle of competitive goats venturing indoors and playing atop the spare furniture.
Best film, Annecy and Bratislava.
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