We recently saw the Italian movie Le Quattro Volte, or The Four Times. A fabulous film for those of us who don’t need to see bullet-riddled dead people oozing bodily fluids every 15 or so minutes to keep us interested.
The movie has been reviewed elsewhere, but let me take a stab at describing its celluloid skeleton. In a mountain village in Calabria we observe an old goatherd with a bad cough as he begins his Pythagorean journey through the four phases of life: mineral, vegetable, animal, and man. We’re doing it backwards, so the goatherd is reborn as a goat, who begets a tree which is used, ultimately, to create charcoal, which is cheating because carbone is not a mineral. But who’s gonna quibble? (Pythagoras lived a while in Crotone in Calabria, so he no doubt observed the same rituals we’re being exposed to while coming to his conclusions.)
Every step of this amazing journey is celebrated by a local festival. The movie, like time, is circular; it begins with the production of charcoal and ends with it. It is the perfect movie about life in an Italian mountain village. Simple on the outside, chock full of meaning on the inside.
If you watch the movie you will note a few interesting concepts. It’s in Italian but there’s no dialog. Yes, people mumble and yell at dogs but it’s all background noise, so essentially we’re talking about a movie without words—and certainly without dialog.
Also interesting is the point of view. The camera doesn’t become part of the scene. It doesn’t roam sentimentally over the contours of its subjects. It doesn’t wow the observer with zooms and pans. It is fixed. It lets the scene dictate the action. It’s like the good old days of Italian neo-realism without the yelling.
While watching the movie you’re likely to feel like a true wanderer. You’ve reached a mountain village of which you are unfamiliar. You’ve taken up a vantage point on top of a hill, where you sit and have a view of the church, the goat pen, the edge of the village, the house of the goatherd. Everything happens in front of you in the wide angle view. You do not need to open up your dog-eared copy of Rick Steves to make a stab at understanding the scene before you because Mr. Steves would never send you to waste your valuable vacation time in such a remote and unattractive village. There is no history because the history is there in front of you. Raw. It’s always been there. You just need to observe it.
Another interesting thing to note: the goatherd seeks relief from his cough through the sacred dust the woman who cleans the church collects and packages and exchanges for goat milk. If you notice, his cough improves noticeably until one day he loses his magic packet. You can imagine what happens next. Anthropologists will tell you that folk cures like these work more often than you might think. Belief is a strong element of keeping a body healthy, and a strong element in the fabric of an isolated community like the one you’re observing.
See the movie if you can. It’s great to see a picture aimed at the curious wanderer.
(Goats? Then we must consult Bleeding Espresso’s take on the movie)