The Four Times

The Four Times (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

In a remote town in southern Italy, we follow an aging gentleman who herds goats. With each day that passes, we watch him lead the goats onto the field for them to eat grass, wait many hours under the sun, and then head home before the sun sets. When the herdsman dies from old age, a goat delivers a kid right before our eyes. The camera, as it did the old man, follows the goat’s daily activities.

Written and directed by Michaelangelo Frammartino, if someone goes into “Le quattro volte” without any idea of the concept it is attempting to expound, he or she will likely to be very confused. Understandably, many might end up being frustrated within the first fifteen minutes and decide to watch something else. I was aware of its ideas but still I found the film difficult to sit through at times, even though the concept itself is fascinating, because of its uncompromising techniques.

The picture is without any dialogue—at least none we can hear clearly. We hear voices very occasionally and when we do they are muted. What we hear clearly is the barking of a dog, coughing of the herder, bleating of the goats, and the wind rustling the leaves. It forces us to pay attention to the images and independently try to make sense of what is going on. I enjoyed looking at the many simple but beautiful images that idyllic Caulonia offers. At one point, I started to think that I wouldn’t mind going on vacation there.

But the movie is about Pythagoras’ belief in reincarnation, not a travelogue. The old man’s soul is transferred to a kid and when that baby goat dies, it is transferred to something else. The transference occurs until immortality is reached.

Perhaps if the pacing had been less sluggish, it would have been less soporific. This is such a terrible thing to admit but it has to be said: I kept wondering when the old man would finally die just so the film could move on. It is so slow that if you look away for about three minutes, you will not miss anything.

At the same time, if one chooses to engage with it, there are details worth noticing. For instance, a parallel is drawn between humans and goats. The goats go out every morning, execute their business, and return before nightfall (as most human adults do). Meanwhile, the kids stay in an enclosed area, explore their environment, and learn how to interact with other goats (as most human children do at school). The material is at its most interesting when Pythagoras’ belief is in direct connection to what defines us as a species instead of remaining abstract and, consequently, abstruse.

“The Four Times” challenges more than entertains. It is meditative and spiritual. Although I enjoyed it to some extent, I would mind watching it again. Some experiences are—and should be—once in a lifetime.

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