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The Four Times -- Film Review

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CANNES -- Staring at goats has become all the rage this year. First George Clooney did it, and now Michelango Frammartino in "The Four Times," a wordless portrait of the cyclical nature of rural life in a tiny, southern Italian town.

One of the most interesting films in the Directors' Fortnight so far, it does not have the draw that more global films like "Koyaanisqatsi" or "Powaqqatsi" had to enthrall mass audiences. But that's also because Frammartino's canvas isn't the world, only a small corner of it, so the visuals are fittingly more intimate.

 

It's tempting to call "The Four Times" documentary-like, except that documentaries usually explain what it is we are seeing. Instead, Frammartino uses his background as a video installation artist to create something that one could just as easily come across playing at an art gallery. The director simply turns on the camera and shows us the natural progression of time in a place where time seems to have stopped.

Working from a quote from the School of Pythagoras -- that each of us has four distinct lives within our one life, and thus must meet each other four times -- the number four also represents four elements (man, animal, plant and mineral) and the four seasons.

The first part of the film centers on an elderly, dying goat-herder. The director spends as much time on the man as the herd, and the silent contemplations of both are equally riveting. While numerous moments evoke smiles, one particularly "awww" inspiring scene comes at the unexpected birth of a baby goat, right after the death of the goat-herder, who is replaced by someone younger but also nameless, as daily routine continues in the community, along with group events like religious celebrations and Christmas gatherings.

There are also numerous, lingering shots of the forests and rocky landscapes (the plants and minerals) of this area not far from the Ionian Sea. It is like watching existence behind the scenes. Frammartino has stopped to smell the roses, trees and fields that not long ago at all made up life as we know it, yet which now has been buried or lost forever under layers of modern, man-made constructs.

We also are reminded that actual recycling happens naturally through, well, the cyclicality of nature. What we are doing today is accumulating noise and junk and moving away from something whose poetry is inherent -- when we remember to think of it.

In fact, we get so sucked in by the silence and images that the communal gatherings in the small town seem like metropolitan hustle and bustle, and the people with their digital cameras and Ipods aliens visiting from a distant future.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Directors' Fortnight
Production: Vivo Film, Essential Filmproduktion, Invisible Film, Ventura Film
Cast: Giuseppe Fuda, Bruno Timpano, Nazareno Timpano
Director: Michelango Frammartino
Screenwriter: Frammartino
Producers: Gregorio Paonessa, Marta Donzelli, Susanne Marian, Philippe Bober, Gabriella Manfre, Andres Pfaeffli, Elda Guidinetti
Director of photography: Andrea Locatelli
Production designer: Matthew Broussard
Costume designer: Gabriella Maiolo
Editors: Benni Atria, Maurizio Grillo
Sales: Coproduction Office
No rating, 88 minutes