June 1, 2021
This article appeared in the May 27 edition of The Film Comment Letter, our free weekly newsletter featuring original film criticism and writing. Sign up for the Letter here.
Those bound by four walls may spurn the word zoom after enduring months of their computer’s surveilling stare. But for filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher, who spent the early days of the pandemic in a home at the intersection of four wooded paths, the zoom lens became a means to conjure connection. Contra Rear Window, where to peer at one’s neighbors unseen feels probing and incursive, Rohrwacher’s new short Four Roads finds the filmmaker roving the Tuscan landscape with a 16mm camera containing expired film, reaching out to her neighbors in their shared seclusion. In a voice-over reminiscent of Agnès Varda, she acquaints us with each: a ruddy countrywoman clinging to the collar of her companionable German shepherd; a man who “could be a poet” beaming above a bouquet of blooms plucked from a “secret spot”; children blowing dandelions, silhouetted against the sunset. Her gaze often strays to lucent windows and doorframes, as if picturing her subjects’ prospects, while zooms keep their apartness achingly visible.
Distance, the last year has shown us, is not incompatible with care. The lens masking Rohrwacher’s face devises a way to lovingly hold others in view from afar. And what views! Skyward shots of canopied boughs prompt her remembrance of a venerable tree whose long life sprung from its solidarity with the surrounding forest. Recently, Ferris Jabr wrote in the New York Times that a tree “sometimes bequeaths a substantial share of its carbon”—in other words, its breath—“to its neighbors.” Rohrwacher’s brief, 8-minute diary spins preemptive nostalgia out of an exceptional present, in which we all long to catch our breath and, finally, exhale together.
Four Roads is streaming now on MUBI.