Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Director: Michelangelo Frammartino
Producer: Philippe Bober, Marta Donzelli, Elda Guidinetti, Gabriella Manfre, Susanne Marian, Gregorio Paonessa, Andres Pfaffli
Screenwriter: Michelangelo Frammartino
Also starring: Philippe Bober
In a small village in southern Italy, an old goatherd (Fuda) tends to his goats as he struggles with a crippling cough. Perhaps it's because he makes his nightly tea with dust swept from the local church. Meanwhile, his faithful dog tenaciously guards the goats, even from a colourful Easter procession. When one goat gives birth, the kid struggles to take its first steps, but on his first trip out with the flock, he gets lost and takes refuge under a large tree that, in the spring, has a key part to play in village life.
The film's lead role shifts as the narrative continues from the goatherd to the dog, the kid, the tree, a crowd of villagers and finally to the men who run the kiln that turns the tree into charcoal. Clearly there's a circle-of-life theme here, as the events cover a full year in a place where life probably hasn't changed much in hundreds of years. There are only a few signs of modernity in this place.
Frammartino shoots this with an artist's eye, using striking angles that capture the light, shadows and colours in intriguing ways. Sometimes we're not quite sure what we're looking at, as the camera observes the most minute details of each scene as well as showing us the bigger picture. Some scenes are shot in long, complex takes that are so elaborate it's impossible to know how the filmmaker managed it. And yet the movie has an essential simplicity that's utterly disarming.
There is no background music and no dialog at all (beyond some random overheard phrases). Actually, the biggest speaking roles belong to the dog and the kid, and no one else understands or even hears what they have to say. It's absolutely mesmerising to watch, with moments of deep emotion and earthy humour. It's also a very sleepy, slow movie that feels like a moving painting, a portrait of life in a variety of forms, connected in space and time.