Before launching into another roundup on Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte (previously: last year's Cannes and New York festivals), let's make note of a few newsier items, starting with yesterday's unveiling of the lineup for this year's San Francisco International Film Festival, running April 21 through May 5.
From Susan Gerhard's overview at SF360: "Currently at 189 films from 40 countries and growing, the 54th SF International opens with Mike Mills's Beginners, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, about a father coming out of the closet at age 75. It closes with French actor Mathieu Amalric's directorial debut, On Tour, which features a buxom crew of American (and Bay Area) New Burlesque performers (a movement said to include all shapes, sizes and genders) touring the French countryside. This year's Centerpiece feature is Azazel Jacobs's much-talked-about Terri, a teen story with John C Reilly in a key role, made by the son of pioneering filmmaker Ken Jacobs."
Brian Brooks at indieWIRE: "Other highlights of SFIFF include honors for Frank Pierson (Kanbar Award), artist Matthew Barney (Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award), Serge Bromberg (Novikoff Award), producer Christine Vachon (State of Cinema Address)."
The dates for this year's AFI FEST are set — November 3 through 10 — and the festival's issued a call for entries. "Among the returning AFI FEST sections is 'Breakthrough,' which highlights films found solely through the submissions process." The festival will be free to attendees again this year and it may well be that part of what makes that possible is consistently referring to the event by its full name: AFI FEST presented by Audi.
Isaac Julien's new piece is being presented in Germany for the first time today at the Museum Brandhorst in Munich: "Ten Thousand Waves is a 9-channel video installation which the artist worked on for almost four years. The main scenes were filmed in China under participation of several internationally-celebrated actresses, including the legendary Maggie Cheung and Zhao Tao. The video artist Yang Fudong, as well as the poet Wang Ping and calligraphy grandmaster Gong Fagen also stood before the camera."
Alright, then, onto today's main event: "Grave, beautiful, austerely comic, and casually metempsychotic, Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte is one of the wiggiest nature documentaries — or almost - documentaries — ever made," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Frammartino's second movie is virtually without dialogue, yet filled with the sounds of the world and intensely communicative. Le Quattro Volte is at once casually mystical and doggedly materialist, visually sophisticated and knowingly archaic. It's a homespun Pythagorean meditation on the harmonious nature of the universe and the transmigration of souls shot in rural Calabria — the hilly land where, some 2,500 years ago, the Greek thinker invented mathematics and, according to tradition, preached to the animals."
"An omniscient view of life with an unerring blend of wit and wisdom, this irresistible fable is inspired by the idea of cyclical transmigration in the natural order," writes Tony Pipolo for Artforum. "When the body of a deceased goatherd is interred in its tomb, a momentarily black screen bursts into light in sync with a baby goat emerging from its mother's body. Later, when the goat dies at the foot of a huge fir, it becomes part of the soil that nourishes the tree. After the tree is subsequently cut down and used in a village festival, it is reduced to wood and converted, via the ancient tradition of kiln smoking, into the charcoal that fuels the homes and cooks the food of the inhabitants of the Calabrian village where the film is set. Without dialogue or narration, the unassailable logic of this structure unfolds seamlessly."
The New York Times' AO Scott notes that "nearly every shot contains a revelation, sneaky or overt, cosmic or mundane… If you pay attention, you see what is going on and grasp the connections between the different things you see, none of which are terribly unfamiliar. But there is something startling, even shocking, about the angle of vision Mr Frammartino imposes by juxtaposing apparently disparate elements and lingering on what seem at first to be insignificant details. You have never seen anything like this movie, even though what it shows you has been there all along."
For the New Yorker's Richard Brody, though, "The complexities of ordinary life don't fit into Frammartino's picture-postcard pieties; his sincere but diffuse spirituality is the cinematic equivalent of New Age music."
"At first," writes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York, "this doc-fiction hybrid... seems like a European companion piece to Apichatpong Weerasethakul's terrific Thai reincarnation parable Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Yet writer-director Michelangelo Frammartino stays at a comparatively chilly remove; the transmigration of souls here seems more a screenwriter's contrivance than a product of the artist's convictions… This is the film of a pretender, not a believer."
Le Quattro Volte is at New York's Film Forum through April 12 and — how's this for coming round full circle — screens at the San Francisco International Film Festival on April 23 and 27.
Update: "Frammartino cites several influences in the creation of his work, such as Béla Tarr, Robert Bresson and Samuel Beckett," notes D Indalecio Guzman at Cinespect. "Tarr is an interesting choice, as I immediately thought of 2000's Werckmeister Harmonies while watching this film. But, while Tarr focused on dismantling cinema's ability to manipulate the viewer's perception of time and space, Frammartino focuses instead on filtering out the intrinsic storytelling need for a sympathetic lead character, breaking down the narrative to its base elements, much like the simple minerals that manifest from the once-complex tree. Andrei Tarkovsky is also a strong influence. In such works as Stalker and Solaris, Tarkovsky broke down the elements of science fiction until all that remained was the idea of a universal soul, a presence that transcended our struggles, including the limits of death."