It is in every film critic’s unwritten code of honour not to give away the entire movie in their review. I unfortunately have to break this golden rule to explain why the jury made the right decision. But I’m fair and am giving you a warning: If you are planning on seeing this movie, stop reading right now, read this article later!!! SPOILER ALERT! All right, that should do. If you’re still with me, I’ll tell you about this extraordinary film, ‘The Four Times’, from Italian director Michelangelo Frammartino.
One – The Old Shepherd And His Goats
This very quiet and slow film starts by describing the everyday life of an elderly shepherd and his goats. Without using any dialogue, the film follows the old man driving his animals up the mountain to graze in the morning and back to the stall in the afternoons. The old man is suffering from a bad cough, which he tries to cure by drinking water mixed with blessed dust from the local church. Well, and then he dies. These first thirty minutes are nice to watch, but the story is not that unusual— so far.
Two – A Baby Goat Gets Lost In The Woods
After the shepherd dies, the film performs a surprising change of protagonist. The goats, formally serving more as a background setting for the story of the shepherd, are now the focus. The goats are staged to appear almost human. One little baby goat leaves the herd and gets lost in the woods. And then…
Three – A Tree Comes To Town
… the woods, and especially one tree which was earlier just the setting for the story of the baby goat, becomes the focus. Amazing. Then…
Four – Coal
… the tree becomes coal, and the coal becomes the next protagonist of the film.
In addition to this incredible shifting of protagonists, the film presents the circle of life in a very special way. In many sequences the camera follows the goats or the shepherd’s dog and the rhythm is determined by the animal’s movements. In the different stages the film uses repeating frames: the village is shot from the same point of view for example, but one time you see the shepherd on his way to church, another time the goats strutting through the alleys or the coal being delivered.
The story isn’t told from a human point of view, the observer is further away—is it maybe God? From this distant perspective, what people say is unimportant, the few words you actually hear in this dialogue-less film sound like the baaahs of goats, the wind through the leaves, and the crackling sound of burning coal. ‘The Four Times’ is a slow and quiet film that surprises you almost more than you can bear. Extraordinary!
Cameron Bailey, co-director of Toronto International Film Festival, Valdís Óskarsdóttir, noted Icelandic director and editor, and Film Comment’s Managing Editor, Laura Kern, formed the jury for the Golden Puffin Award. They chose this film out of twelve remarkable debut or second films presented in the main category New Visions. FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics, came to the same decision and honoured ‘The Four Times’ with a second award.