On Distance During The Pandemic: Alice Rohrwacher’s Four Roads, Film Companion

Alice Rohrwacher is an Italian filmmaker whose films, like Happy As Lazzaro, which won the Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018, and The Wonders, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2014, lead the audience by their hand into a bright, idyllic Italian countryside and let them wander. When I watched her new short documentary, Four Roads, I was momentarily swept away into a similar setting. From friendly neighbours to huge, grassy fields swaying to the rhythm of the spring winds – it is a soothing film and a temporary escape from the harsh realities of the pandemic-stricken world that we are otherwise forced to live in. However, the film unfolds as a commentary on the uncomfortable distance that marks its presence in the human community, pandemic and otherwise.

The film announces right at the start that it is the month of April 2020 and human beings are not allowed to go near each other because of a virus. Throughout the rest of the movie, we see Alice trying to get close to her neighbours as she shoots them, their lives and their houses using her camera. More precisely, through what she calls the ‘magic eye’ or ‘the magical power of the zoom’ reaching where her physical body could not. We see her friendly, smiling neighbours up close as they speak, laugh and pose awkwardly for her. The hand-held camera almost becomes an off-shoot of the physical body in the process, moving and swaying along with it but from a distance. She walks down roads that are completely deserted and with grass growing in the middle of them, and meditates upon nature, associates with her neighbours and sheds light on the lessons she learns from them. A few minutes into the film, I was conscious of the camera lens constantly trying to adjust the distance between two human bodies. After all, the camera is a beautiful tool to capture the nuance of everyday living but it cannot fill the physical void between two human bodies. Perhaps Alice is commenting on the similar nature of separation that exists in society – uncomfortable and unfathomable.

It can be further noted that the neighbours themselves lead a tranquil life with a pet by their side. The film goes on to feature young children making flower bands for their hair and happily playing around in the sun. There is an aura of detachedness from the world at large. Alice has confessed that she was shooting her neighbours whose lives had not been majorly affected by the pandemic except for the physical distance that they were to maintain from each other. The subtlety of the situation is unthinkable in metropolitan cities and towns around the world, yet in her quiet neighbourhood, it seems to be the only possible effect of the pandemic. She walks down the roads leading in different directions from her house. In the process, she finds herself a space among her neighbours and lush nature a community that was harmoniously feeling the same sense of isolation in their solitude. Her ‘magic eye’, then, does not only try to gauge the distance between human bodies but also tries to recognise and address its everyday existence among human beings themselves.

While other films that have been shot during the pandemic in the past year have relied heavily on the use of technological advancements like video calls, internet surfing, social media browsing and online gaming as essential everyday activities for the survival of humankind, this film betrays all the 21st-century notions of temporalities. Shot on a 16 mm film, like her movie The Wonders, it harks back to the nostalgia of old cameras and sepia-tinted memories. The background score ties the voiceover and the reels together into a little present of delight. The film ends with a metaphorical commentary on a thousand-year-old tree in France. It invites the audience into a discourse on harmony and symbiotic living with nature and one’s neighbours. Four Roads contemplates the looming gap between nature and human beings, and between human beings themselves. It can be streamed on MUBI.

On Distance During The Pandemic: Alice Rohrwacher’s Four Roads, Film Companion

Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.

Subscribe now to our newsletter