In the opening moments of her lockdown short Four Roads, the Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher (Corpo Celeste, The Wonders, Happy as Lazzaro) announces her intention to look up her neighbours in the sundappled Tuscan countryside, promising to use her camera as "my magic eye, reaching where my body can't". In normal circumstances, this kind of talk would lead to the swift issuing of restraining orders, yet the resulting eight minutes - composed of fond portraits of the people around the director, shot on Super-8 at a WHO-approved distance - succeeds in capturing some of the detached weirdness of Europe's first spell in lockdown, which coincided with the onset of Spring 2020. Rohrwacher, one of the contemporary cinema's pre-eminent nature girls, spotted how lush the landscape became in the absence of the usual noise and clutter, how blue the sky was with no budget airlines sending out vapour trails. The world this camera looks upon appears simultaneously healthier and unhealthier, some acknowledgement of how hard it was to reconcile what one saw with one's own eyes by day with the figures and footage piling up on the nightly news.
The pandemic forced Rohrwacher, as it did the rest of us, to seek new routes through the familiar - as in the "anarchic path" she discovers, leading to an adjacent family farm. More broadly, it forced her - as it has also forced us - to adapt, toughen up, and find alternative means of connecting. Four Roads is essentially one of those Zoom shorts made by a creative far keener to look out onto the physical world than its virtual equivalent - understandably so, given the shimmering greens and golds of this particular landscape. The unreality is heightened by the fact we're far removed from those Covid hotspots. A year on, and with developments elsewhere in the world, we may already have forgotten just how bad Italy had it in that first wave of lockdown; Rohrwacher apparently resides somewhere close to the agrarian idylls of The Wonders and Happy as Lazzaro, so you can see why she might ask "is this really happening?". The music-box score and self-consciously retro grain of the images themselves push for something timeless. (Only when one neighbour pulls on a mask are we snapped back into the present.) All these lockdown shorts - from Netflix's high-profile compilation Homemade to Alexei Sayle's lo-fi cycle rides around a near-abandoned London - invite reading as Pepysian journal entries, a record of how we felt in a moment of global crisis. They present as intersections, scratched out between more ambitious projects, offering a space for reflection while we all try and figure out our next move. Some distance down the road, will we revisit them and the history they chronicle, or will we turn the page comprehensively, and never look upon them again?
Four Roads streams on MUBI from tomorrow.