High on a hill is a lonely goatherd (Fuda). He lives and works in the southern Italian village of Calabria, and he's got a cough like Garbo's Camille, which he combats with a drink made of dust particles from the local church. One night, he misplaces the mixture and death descends. But in the world of Le Quattro Volte, the man's soul lives on, jumping between hosts---first a goat, then a tree and, finally, some wood charcoal, a product of the region.
At first, this doc-fiction hybrid (which has little dialogue and no subtitles) 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. Each image is beautifully composed---most notably a doozy of a long take in which a goat pen is destroyed by a runaway vehicle---yet strangely empty. You feel like Frammartino is playing connect-the-metaphysical-dots from scene to scene, as in a shot that frames the herdsman in a too-clean counterpoint to the charcoal flues on the village rooftops. And the director races far too quickly to get to his ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust punch line. This is the film of a pretender, not a believer.