I’m interested in those movies and CDs that are designed to stimulate babies. They aren’t narrative stories or traditional songs but just collections of images or pieces of music that, so the theory goes, makes the baby smarter or more alert. Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte is like that for adults. It reminded me of the brilliant Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov except not as frenetic, more calming. The title refers to Pythagoras’s four elements of life; animal, mineral, vegetable, and intellectual. There is no dialogue in the movie, but it shows life in a small village mainly through the hard existence of an old shepherd and his many goats. Many, many goats. Shots are long and they linger, the soundtrack is natural and unobtrusive, it is a beautiful film. But, unlike Vertov’s picture, Le Quattro Volte never rises above the level of an elevated nature film and never makes a point of any substance. It’s absorbing and, in it’s way, life affirming and as a piece of pure cinema it’s exceptional. It guides us through the life of our old man and the birth of a goat to the raising of a ceremonial tree to the use of that tree in the creation of charcoal.
We see these things but aren’t informed on what Frammartino thinks of them. I don’t need to be hit over the head with a message and I’m sure my thoughts went to many places the filmmakers didn’t intend while watching this most reflective film, but there’s a difference between the director being out of the way and not being there at all. The film casts a kind of spell, however. Right after I’d seen it I was prepared to dismiss it as a slight experimental something, but the more I thought about it the more images resonated and stayed with me, so much so and for a such a long time that I watched it a second time. I’m not sure it made me smarter, but it made me think more than all but a few movies this year.