What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
From Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
You can forget all about Terence Malick’s Tree of Life juggernaut, one of the four stars of this comically quirky and quietly spiritual look at life is an enormous fir tree swaying gently in the forest. Our three other protagonists in this novel drama from director Michelangelo Frammartino, then, are a bronchial old man, a kid goat, and, um, a sackful of charcoal. Confused already? Well, throwing “world-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras” into the mix may not sound like the most obvious way of alleviating that predicament. However, what Mr. Frammartino is gently paying homage to here is this Greek philosopher’s view that the human soul passes through four states – those of man, animal, vegetable, and mineral respectively. In this respect, we can be glad that Gaspar Noé read The Tibetan Book of the Dead instead or the already-interminable Enter the Void (2009) would have gone on for longer than it took to build the Pyramids
Although a drama, the film is shot with such striking realism and seemingly callous detachment that it borders on the incomprehensible that anyone could continue to film certain events without staging an intervention. However, exhibiting a tremendous talent for staging elaborate visual gags, Mr. Frammartino’s unmissable centrepiece scene is the single take of the mayhem that the old goatherd’s dog causes as an Easter procession passes through the ancient Italian hilltop village. It is simply deadpan comedy at is finest. Equally, the pensive close-ups of actor Giuseppe Fuda are reminiscent of Rembrandt’s portraits of his ageing self in terms of their mute unvarnished sadness.