Le Quattro Volte is a piece of slow cinema, a poem rather than a play. It is set in a remote village in southern Italy. The four times, or four turns, is a reference to the Pythagorean idea of metempsychosis and the cycle of four phases of life at different levels: human, animal, plant and earth.

The human segment follows an old goat-herd as he tends his flock in the mountains by day and then follows them back to their enclosure at night. He is old and sick. An accident breaks the goat’s enclosure, and as we follow them through the town we find the goat-herd dead in his bed.

The transitions between segments are marked by fades to black. We hear before we see the animal segment beginning with the birth of a goat. This is larger scale goat farming and the goats are led out into the hills rather than followed, so that strays are not noticed. The kid, its legs tied together, cannot jump out of a ditch, and becomes separated and lost. It lies down to die under a tree.


The fasten seat belts sign comes on as the plane crosses the Andes, apparently a routine precaution against the turbulence created by air flowing over the high mountains. But we don’t see the summits through the thick layer of cloud until we have banked left and started the descent into Santiago. The airport looks new and immigration is efficient. We have a slight delay while customs inspect a flask in our luggage. The Chileans, protected behind their high walls, are very concerned about importing agricultural pests and diseases.

We are staying in Santiago as house guests with my brother and his family. They live in the suburb of Los Trapenses on the mountain side of Santiago. This is all new development. Building is allowed up to the 1000 metre mark and their place is at around 990 metres. Looking back down the valley, Santiago sprawls into the distance. There is a noticeable layer of pollution in the air. Warm air carrying pollution from traffic and factories gets trapped beneath a layer of cold air creating, particularly in winter, poor air quality. Already in the foothills, from here the heights rise quickly. The highest peak visible from Santiago is El Plomo at 5,434 metres. Now in October, there is still some snow on the summits. Looking towards the peaks from the back garden we can see the condors circling on the air currents, mobbed occasionally by smaller birds, and then, riding a draft, rapidly disappearing into the mountains.