You don't need to know how to speak Italian to watch this Italian movie, and it has no subtitles. The movie is not purely visual though the photography is quite wonderful. It has an important soundtrack which consists of the sounds of men tamping down charcoal beds with shovels, goats bleating before being milked, a woman sweeping the floor in a church, a sheep dog barking, the final block being put into place in a mausoleum to enclose a casket. The action moves from a forest where a goatherd tends to his flock, then to the man's house where he tends to a nasty cough with a potion poured out in a folded up magazine page.
The potion is very important to the man whose cough does not improve. A town performs a passion play complete with a christ figure carrying the cross up a hill to join two other crosses already in place.
The camera is never too close to people, with the exception of the goatherd. Most of the shots are long shots. The goats are shot close up and we get to know them pretty well. The mountains, the trees, the dog, and especially one very tall pine tree, these are our familiars by the end of the picture. The picture begins and ends with smoke. We learn how charcoal is made in an ancient practice with an architectural form worthy of Stonehenge.
I remember in the preview the title was explained-- something about how man lives "four times" -- as mineral, vegetable, animal, and thinking being. We watch the coal, the pine tree, the baby goat, and the old shepherd progress from beginning to inevitable end, as smoke.