May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
September 13, 2011
One Time: A few years before we had our daughter, my wife and I were walking in the hills of Caracalla just south of Rome. About halfway through this quiet suburban park we encountered an old sheep that had recently died about five yards from the path. Several of its friends were trying to nuzzle it awake before the flies descended. A half mile later, we watched a mother lick the face of a lamb that had just slipped from her womb. This was all a bit too cosmic and uncanny, so we continued on in silence.
Another Time: In a similar flash of poetry my daughter and I recently came to the end of Charlotte’s Web. After Wilbur returns from the fair, a herd of tiny spiders erupts from Charlotte’s epitaphic egg sac, only three of which stay to keep him company. But these three spiders, and their successive generations, turn out to be enough for Wilbur. The book gently concludes: “Life in the barn was very good—night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.”
Dead sheep and new lambs, E.B. White evocations of glory, simple images of time that even children can understand – these are the things I often look for in cinema. Le Quattro Volte (lit.: The Four Times) is filled with such simple observations. A shepherd in Calabria spends the last few days of his life doing what he has always done, cycling between the village and the fields with his herd of goats. When he passes at the end of the first act of the film, we return to the village for another round of wordless vignettes. This time we watch a clever dog set the herd free, a goat is born, a coffin buried, a string of such events unfold until the film vanishes in a wisp of smoke from the local charcoal heap. There is a lot of subtle Tati-like humor to the orchestration of these animals, especially a scene including a dog that deserves the best supporting actor Oscar this year. There are some abstract references to the pulse of life transferred via ancient rhythm through this village occupied by man and beast alike. But it is really just a film about life in a very Wilburian barnyard way.
A Third Time: Today is the last day my daughter will ever be four years old. Time has turned this bairn that once giggled in the crook of my arm into an acrobatic streak of uncontained life. She can do the monkey bars by herself. She can sit through three chapters of The Secret Garden. She goes to school and sits in a desk with her pencils in a neat little row. She can recite her phone number. She asked me this morning: Can I dance on your feet one last time as a four year old? Of course you can. Yesterday, my wife asked me to write her a letter every year in anticipation of her birthday, to be delivered in a heap upon her 18th year. Of course I will. Filled with simple images, recollections, passages from treasured books about the stuff of life, I am sure that these letters will be filled, time and time again, with “the glory of everything.”