Voci Nel Tempo (Voices Through Time) is a beautiful, original Italian film that you can only see in Boulder, and only for the next few weeks.
Voices Through Time is a nonnarrative film. It’s not a documentary — in fact each shot is staged and acted. But it doesn’t have a narrative plot in the usual, movie sense of the word. Instead, the entire film, as a whole, tells the story of being human. Starting at infancy and adding from there, each segment shows different stages of life, ultimately forming a mosaic of the human lifetime.
Voices Through Time opens on dawn, sunrise, a kitten, and an infant. A toddler struggles with a tall stone staircase, and soon young children are holding imaginary conversations or roughhousing on the grass for a dizzied camera. They run around a concrete well in the town’s central courtyard on their way to play soccer.
Later, older girls, just past puberty, sit together on the same concrete well, dressed to impress the boys. The boys arrive in a pack, each one on a scooter or motorcycle. The ride circles around the girls, posturing and strutting their plumage.
The girls whisper to each other, but Director Franco Piavoli wisely decides not to use subtitles. Their coy glances and awkward stares tell the story better than any language. Also, the foreignness of the words gives the film an anthropological quality that makes the film more timeless and universal. One gets the sense that these could be any people, anywhere in the world. And that universality is central to the film.
After the acne-faced strutting, Voices moves on to a group of young adults at a dance. The boys and girls have mixed together now. Their vigor and enthusiasm is captured with the same cinematography as the play and wrestling of the younger children, though now their energy is harnessed and focused into the dance. Naturally, a wedding scene soon follows.
All ages of people come together for the wedding. The newlyweds don’t remain at the center for very long, as they quickly drive off to their honeymoon. But the old folks sit around for quite some time and talk and sing songs. Later, a few couples dance, though much more gingerly than the younger couples.
Soon it is night and the long slow process of aging manifests itself in the film. After the young men have driven away to work, the old men putter in the courtyard by the well, listening to the voice of a young lady singing her voice lessons. Clocks tick as the remaining adults wait for the inevitable last stage of life.
Between the wedding and old age, there are no scenes of working, raising children, or keeping house. For most people, this would be about half of a lifetime. The omission might be a deliberate comment on how quickly and uneventfully this time of life passes, but its absence left me wondering what Piavoli has to say about people my age.
Also at this point in the film, the message becomes somewhat muddled. One sequence shows a shots of trains, planes, and cars that are intercut with older and younger people alike. Is this the section on absent, middle-aged people running the world, or is it about the isolation of age? Whatever was intended, the message is less clear and forceful than, say, a screen full of just children.
Nevertheless, Voices Through Time is transfixing. Its observant, unobtrusive style of cinematography perfectly captures the people in their verdant, rural setting. Its universal story takes the entire duration of the film to unfold. Each scene is beautiful and interesting in itself, and then these pieces join to form a larger, more important picture. It is a picture rarely, if ever, captured on film.