Tag: italy

Le quattro volte


Le quattro volte (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.

Eat Pray Love


Eat Pray Love (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

When Liz (Julia Roberts) decided that she wanted a divorce from her husband (Billy Crudup), with the support of her friend (Viola Davis), she bought tickets to Italy, India and Bali in hopes of finding true happiness. In her journey, she met many interesting people who, like her, were going through their own quest to find self-love and forgiveness. Italy appealed to the stomach, India to the mind, and Bali to the heart. Most audiences’ critiques I read about this film was that they felt like the story was painfully self-centered. I expected to Liz to be a spoiled, uncultured American who had no genuine reason to complain about her life. That wasn’t the case at all. I thought she had a brain and I liked the fact that she wanted something more than spending the weekends buying material possessions on credit. Instead of wallowing in her problems and not doing anything about them, she decided that she wanted to take control of her life and to be open to new kinds of perspectives from individuals who grew up in various customs. Of course, not everyone has the means to travel across the globe to sort out their problems, but I believe that a lot of married people are unhappy with the way things are. Most of them just won’t admit to it. Or worse, some of them have accepted that unhappiness is the norm and there isn’t a thing they can do to get out of a bad marriage. Adults, perhaps more female than male, will most likely find themselves able to relate to Liz’ identity crisis from body image to society’s expectations about what makes a convenient versus a happy marriage. We saw the story through Liz’ eyes so why shouldn’t the film have the right to be self-centered? I found the performances to be subtle and involving. Roberts was radiant as she played a character who felt like she had to fill a hole inside her in order to feel like she was truly alive. She had such ease weaving her character in and out of various places and dealing with polarizing personalities. I did not expect her to have much chemistry with James Franco but they were able to pull off their doomed relationship quite swimmingly. Even when Roberts was just in a scene by herself, I couldn’t help but smile. For instance, when she ate those saliva-inducing Italian food in slow motion, I could feel her having fun in her role. I wish she was in starring roles more often, especially these days, because there aren’t a lot of actors who can balance control and reckless abandon so beautifully and elegantly. Based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, “Eat Pray Love,” directed by Ryan Murphy, is ultimately about the big questions more than the answers. Liz may have gotten answers fit to her lifestyle. By providing them a possibility, perhaps adults stuck in unrewarding marriages would be inspired not necessarily to leave the country and live the life they’ve always imagined but to find something better than what is.

Letters to Juliet


Letters to Juliet (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Aspiring writer and current fact checker Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and her chef fiancé (Gael García Bernal) went to Italy for their pre-honeymoon. Sophie thought that the two of them would have a great time and set aside their work for a couple of days, but her soon-to-be-husband seemed like he was more excited about the opening of his restaurant than the prospect of marriage and settling down. This led Sophie to go sightseeing on her own and she eventually found a fifty-year-old letter that was unanswered by Juliet, a person who made it her legacy to answer letters written by many people from different cultures who visited Verona’s courtyard. Even though I found the picture to be completely predictable, I ended up really enjoying it mainly because of Seyfried. I find that every time I watch her, I feel a certain warmth and charm that she radiates without even trying. With somewhat of a slow start, the story started to pick up when Sophie finally met the owner (the elegant Vanessa Redgrave) of the one letter she answered along with her disapproving grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan). Since the owner wanted to find her long lost lover named Lorenzo, the three went on a road trip which wasn’t always fun. In fact, it was full of disappointments because with each incorrect Lorenzo they found, I felt the grandmother’s hope to considerably diminish. I thought the best part of the film was the road trip because the three had a commonality. That is, they knew how it was like to lose someone important to them and that was often at the forefront. On top of that, Sophie and the sarcastic and somewhat uptight grandson began to feel a little spark for each other so then they had to deal with that tension even though they initially didn’t want to. However, I wished the last fifteen minutes hadn’t dropped the ball. I thought the reunion could have been handled with more intelligence (maybe even a spice of boldness) and not result to the whole will-she-or-won’t-she formula because we knew what would eventually happen. “Letters to Juliet,” directed by Gary Winick, without a doubt, is syrupy and has a highly idealistic vision of romance. Sometimes it made me roll my eyes because I kept thinking of obvious questions like the grandmother not changing her place of residence for the last fifty years or why did all of the women in the film believed in “true love.” However, most of the time, I was just happy watching it because the storytelling felt effortless and it made me wish for a moment that true love really existed.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom


Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
★★★ / ★★★★

Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini paints a deeply disturbing film about Nazis who kidnapped eighteen teenagers from their homes and subjected them in all kinds of physical, sexual and mental embarrassment (“torture” is the more accurate word to be perfectly honest). Out of those eight Nazis four were men (Paolo Bonacelli as The Duke, Giorgio Cataldi as The Bishop, Umbero Paolo Quintavalle as The Magistrate and Aldo Valletti as The President) and four were women (Caterina Boratto, Elsa De Giorgi, Sonia Saviange and Hélène Surgère). I have a penchant for films that defy the norm; though this film definitely fits in that category, I must admit that even this one was too much for me. It’s one thing when the audiences are forced to hear stories about the prostitutes’ personal experiences with men who have strange perversions but it’s another when we’re forced to see teenagers consume feces and get their tongues cut off. There were many scenes in the movie when I had to cover my eyes or look away because it all looked so realistic. At the same time, despite my disgust and horror, the film has messages such as the danger of capitalism, the objectification of male and female bodies and taking reality in a whole new level. There’s also bits about homophobia, mashochism, and insidious tools of oppression such as religion, titles and groupthink. When I really think about it, even though this picture was released in 1975, it’s still very relevant today. I also liked the common theme of something beautiful and inviting on the outside but only meanness, ugliness and evil can be found inside, such as the structurally beautiful palace where all kinds of evil are committed within its confines. I thought its messages culminated in the end when all kinds of atrocities were happening: While we get to see horrific images of violence sans the screaming and begging for remorse, I felt a sort of sadness and even a pinch of anger. When reviewers say that this film has nothing to offer, I argue that they haven’t really thought about the picture. While it may be challenging to look past the violence, it’s undeniable that “Salò” has insight that less daring movies will otherwise not achieve. I give this a recommendation but I must warn that this is not for a typical movie-going audience or for the faint of heart.