Expanding the recursive structure of Le Quattro Volte into the echo-chamber realm of the looping art installation, Michelangelo Frammartino uses his follow-up, Alberi, to explore similar themes, resulting in a neat, elegant invocation of organic predominance. Once again documenting the intertwined relationship between man and nature in a timelessly rural corner of southern Italy, he scraps the metempsychotic broadness of his previous project’s Pythagorean subject, this time settling into the gentle flow of one specific cycle.
Unburdened by dialogue, the short operates in distinct sections, detailing the circuit between a small town in Italy’s Basilicata region and the lush, primeval forest that surrounds it. Bearing axes, a group of men trudge down to the woods, and it seems as if they’ll return bearing lumber, especially considering the director’s continued fixation on drifting tendrils of chimney smoke. Instead they’re engaged in a bit of quiet, primal magic, setting up an ancient ritual that literally envelops them within the forest’s outstretched arms. Stripping ivy and branches, the men swath themselves in greenery, marching back to the village like a mob of Ents. It’s a practice conducted as a celebration of life, invoking the pagan symbol of the wreath as an analogue for perpetual renewal, but one that also has a clear relationship to death, given the innate consequence of removing this flora from its natural context.
Projected on the inner curve of PS1’s VW Dome, however, Alberi hits on a purely visceral level; forget all the theorizing about transmigration and mystical tetrads, the feeling of lying back on the carpet is clean and relaxing, especially since Frammartino seems to have prepared for the unorthodox projection style by arcing so many of his shots upward, affording expansive views of tree canopies and open skies. The director’s enchantment with nature is clear, and it’s infectious here, within an enclosed environment that seems like a direct response to the stone-and-gravel barrenness of the museum grounds, themselves a microcosm of the asphalt wastes of Long Island City. It’s a shame to walk out of Alberi’s world of birdcalls and windswept branches and not step out onto grass, and the basic urges the film inspires, within a viewing area more suited to cloud-watching than cinematic projection, pushes it beyond the usual theatrical experience.
More than anything, Alberi is about the essential significance of nature, the way it provides not only the physical necessities for life, but the overarching structure for all its systems and processes. Abandoning the complex long shots that defined Le Quattro Volte, Frammartino relies more heavily on montage, jumping from one image to another in pursuit of a teeming patchwork of green trees and gray stone. The sights that surround the woodsmen on their two marches seem to comment on this equation: power lines run the town down to the forest, invoking its status as the absolute generator of existence; an old stone house sits in ruins, a huge tree bursting from its foundation. The motif of recurrence is further fleshed out by the ancestral endurance of this ritual, which has gone on year after year for time immemorial, the product of a culture sustained by its balanced handling of the environment which contains it. Arriving at the start of the spring season, Alberi seems perfectly placed, a calm, breezy summation of the murmuring rhythms of life.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 17—27. For more information click here.