Review: Old man with a Cough, his Goats and a Tree

There’s a nice little cinema downtown, hidden on the fourth floor of a shopping centre, that shows foreign and less mainstream films.  It only has one screen and a basic ticket costs ¥1500, which is expensive by Irish standards, but reasonable in Japan where most cinemas charge ¥1800.  As a foreigner, going to a cinema like this is a safer bet as they are more likely to show films in their original language with subtitles, rather than being dubbed as they might in the big cineplexes.

I looked through the brochure for a film from a country whose language I understand (i.e. English or Italian) and decided to check out an Italian film called Le Quattro Volte.  I googled it just to briefly scan the reviews and picked up the phrases ‘extraordinary achievement’, ‘precise, subtle and masterful’ (The Guardian), ‘remarkable’ (www.filmforum.org) and ‘amazing’ (New York Times).  I suspected from the fact that it was about an elderly goatherd that it was going to be a film in which nothing happens (I was right).  But I went to see it anyway, figuring that at least I would be able to listen to some Italian (I was wrong).

If I had looked closer at the reviews I would have noticed phrases like ‘slow-moving’, ‘art film’ (The Guardian) and ‘idiosyncratic’ (New York Times).  This is a film where nothing happens and nobody speaks.  There were no subtitles in this film as there was no need for them.  It is silent except for background noise, which, not having anything in the foreground becomes the soundtrack to the film – coughing, bleating, cowbells, and wind.  My title pretty much sums up what happens in the film.  An old goatherd has a cough.  A goat gets lost.  A tree is cut down.  These events are not related.  The film is undeniably beautiful for the stunning Calabrese scenery and great cinematography, and it’s interesting as a documentary of a rural backwater town which seems unchanged since the fifties or earlier.  It has no story and there is always a sense of detachment in the viewer due to high camera angles and the like, so it can only be seen as an artwork or documentary.  It’s the moving-image equivalent of a Millet painting, if you’ll pardon the reference.

This kind of film should be shown in a gallery where people can pause, appreciate and then move on.  Despite being only an hour and a half long, I was getting restless by the end of the part about the old man, which was only about a third of the way in.  I have only myself to blame for not researching the film more fully before I went to it, so go see it if you would like to see a moving picture of rural Italy.  If, like me, you’re not really into films where nothing happens, don’t bother.  I’m not going to pretend to ‘get’ this film.

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