October 2 – October 16
Please note: The films for this season will begin at 6pm.
The richly characterised films of Ermanno Olmi (1931–2018) span over 60 years and alternate between fiction and documentary, period realism and modern fable, the use of non-professional actors and, in later years, many prestigious stars. Yet a recognisably deep humanism and empathy runs unerringly throughout his diverse output. His films are anchored in the formative lessons learned making documentaries for his energy company employer in the 1950s, while still in his 20s. Combined with his admiration for the neo-realist masterpieces of Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, Olmi made empathetic use of his own past experience, the environment around him and that of the peasants and workers of northern Italy in his work.
By the end of the ’60s, and after the release of such masterworks as Il posto and I fidanzati, he had established an international reputation for revealing and intimate portrayals of the individual’s struggle to maintain identity and dignity under the pressures of work, poverty and socio-religious expectation. His low-key but committed Catholicism exists in parallel with his strong sense of social justice and political commitment. The recipient of many international awards, revered by his peers and popular throughout his homeland, Olmi stands as one of realism’s most masterly yet gracious practitioners: “The cinema is life, and life is the cinema for me.”
This season of imported 35mm prints features many of Olmi’s key works including his initial string of social-realist masterpieces, the Palme d’Or-winning opus that defines his popular and critical reputation, The Tree of Wooden Clogs, and his magisterial adaptation of Joseph Roth’s classic novella, The Legend of the Holy Drinker.
All films are 35mm prints courtesy of Cinecittà Luce.
6:00pm – I FIDANZATI
Ermanno Olmi (1963) 77 mins
A touching, subtle and unsentimental story of ordinary people and the mysteries of the human heart told with overriding humanism and simplicity. Set against the economic boom of ’60s Italy, an engaged couple are separated by geography when the man is transferred from Milan to Sicily for work. From the malaise of a familiar relationship to the loneliness and isolation of rural Sicily undergoing industrialisation, their love lingers, fades and is reborn as observed by Olmi’s compassionate but rigorously objective lens.
7:25pm – THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS
Ermanno Olmi (1978) 186 mins
The zenith of Olmi’s realist style, this intimate epic remains one of the truly immersive depictions of another time and place in all cinema. Olmi collaborated with an entire community of Lombardy villagers who retell and perform their society’s own stories of the late 19th century in their appropriate location and dialect. Olmi’s meticulously prepared script and mastery of mise en scène combine with the frank dignity of the non-professional performers to produce a cumulatively heartbreaking effect.
Winner of the 1978 Palme d’Or at Cannes.
6:00pm – IL POSTO
Ermanno Olmi (1961) 93 mins
Olmi’s celebrated second feature has little in the way of a conventional story but is endowed with a quiet, truthful humour and concentrated, atmospheric observation of everyday life. Though its style is pointedly unadorned, the film has a precise sense of timing and reveals Olmi’s brilliant talent for capturing the comic, pompous and sometimes sad way people behave. This coming-of-age study of a young man’s first job, and his journey from a small village to the facelessness of Milan, both reinvigorated neo-realism and established Olmi as a key director of modern Italian cinema.
7:45pm – THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY DRINKER
Ermanno Olmi (1988) 128 mins
Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Olmi’s spare but often comic adaptation of exiled Austrian writer Joseph Roth’s celebrated 1939 novella is a wonderfully measured and poetic parable of a homeless alcoholic (Rutger Hauer) living on the streets of Paris. Gifted 200 francs, with the proviso that he “returns” the money when he can afford it to a chapel dedicated to St. Thérèse, this dreamlike vision of the city and those who inhabit it is both a typically gritty Olmi creation and an unusually lyrical and textured opus. Beautifully shot by Dante Spinotti (L. A. Confidential).
6:00pm – TIME STOOD STILL
Ermanno Olmi (1959) 83 mins
Originally commissioned by the Edisonvolta company to make a documentary showcase of its new hydroelectric dam, Olmi instead turned in this spirited and spiritual docu-drama, his first feature film. A comedy about intergenerational tension set high up in the Italian Alps, where an older caretaker and his greenhorn assistant are left to bond after an avalanche isolates them from the outside world, Olmi’s debut showcases his neo-realist eye for the ordinary – and extraordinary – details of life, qualities that would inform much of the director’s celebrated later work.
7:35pm – CAMMINA CAMMINA
Ermanno Olmi (1983) 171 mins
Olmi’s follow up to The Tree of Wooden Clogs is a vast and irreverent epic shadowing a village of Tuscan peasants who re-enact the biblical Journey of the Magi. Olmi evokes something of Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew in a fascinating attempt to find the spiritual or religious sublime in the “authentic” faces of his cast, comprised entirely of non-actors. A great favourite of legendary Australian film critic John Flaus, this bracing, joyous but measured exploration of religious life and pageantry is one of Olmi’s most underrated films.