The title Le Quattro Volte translates to The Four Times, which is the key to what Michelangelo Frammartino's hybrid-documentary UFO-of-a-film is up to. The first time the subject is human, the second it's animal, the third it's vegetable and lastly it's mineral: Frammartino runs through the Italian countryside, transforming man into the four parts of the natural world, something most viewers will pick up on even without the film's epically ponderous, ten-plus press kit pages of explanation and context. Alternately beguiling and actively irritating, Frammartino's second feature is too uneven to recommend whole-heartedly, but contains so many individually fascinating movies that attention should be paid. Commercial prospects for the dialogue-free film are minimal, though pretty nature scenery, plenty of animals and an occasionally wry sense of humor should help bring in older audience without understanding what they're really in for.
First up: the saga of an elderly goatherd whose constant cough is a severe irritant capable of inducing sympathetic audience hacking. His nature idylls turn increasingly savage until he dies, provoking the film's finest comic coup, which shouldn't be spoiled (suffice to say no dog in cinematic history has provoked quite so much elaborately choreographed chaos); the scene's patient orchestration is worthy of Roy Andersson. The film then shifts to the goats themselves, soundtracked by intensely abrasive bleating. The final two sequences are less aurally overwhelming: a tree's use in a village festival (populated by more people than the rest of the film's entire running time), and a coda where the tree becomes coal, complete nature's cyclical ways.
The film has no subtitles for any of its ambient dialogue, which allows for conceptual focus (and, more cynically, saves on translation expenses). Frammartino's framework, though, is awfully portentous and broad, and doesn't precisely earn its grandiosity. It succeeds and fails moment-to-moment, shot-to-shot, hitting and missing in roughly equal measure. Part of the problem lies in Frammartino's relative indifference to his actual setting: what separates this from any other near-deserted Italian mountain village is no concern of his. Finally, though, the ponderousness suffocates the film. This is a prime Festival Film, equally beautiful and turgid; Frammartino has lots of promise, but might be well served by thinking of something smaller than all of Nature.
Distributor: Lorber Films
Cast: Giuseppe Fuda, Bruno Timpano and Nazareno Timpano
Director/Screenwriter: Michelangelo Frammartino
Producers: Philippe Bober, Marta Donzelli, Elda Guidinetti, Gabriella Manfré, Susanne Marian, Gregorio Paonessa and Andres Pfäffli
Genre: Drama/Documentary; Italian-language, subtitled
Running time: 88 min
Release date: March 30 NY, April 15 ltd.