“Keep your eyes on the ground instead of the stars—you’ll always find something to eat there,” quotes a famished pilgrim in Olmi’s neorealist biblical epic, a combination of genres that only Olmi would attempt, let alone succeed at.
The film begins in a modern-day Italian village as loudspeakers advertise a Journey of the Magi pageant filled with “soldiers and kings, wise men and fools,” to be “reenacted by ordinary townsfolk.” Seconds later, the reenactment becomes the film itself, with each ordinary citizen now a soldier, wise man, or pilgrim in a procession led by the magus Mel(chior) to find the newborn King. No stage or set-bound re-creation of the Bible here; Olmi dragged the cast and crew on a months-long trek across the countryside in search of maximum naturalism, filming with available light and sound and ultimately attaining a heat-baked, dust-coated realism that would be astonishing for a contemporary documentary, much less a costumed epic set in biblical times. —bampfa.berkeley.edu
The death of his father during the Second World War led Ermanno Olmi to seek work at an early age. From the age of 18, he worked as a factory clerk, a position he would occupy for nearly ten years. Ironically, factory life would also enable Olmi to discover his true vocation when he became involved in industrial film production for the Edison-Volta company. From 1953 to 1961, Olmi was involved in the making of at least forty documentary shorts. His first feature Time Stood Still was initially commissioned as a short documentary on a hydroelectric dam built in the Italian Alps. The resulting film was an unusual two-character “chamber piece”; the chamber being a cabin in the snow-bound Alps which housed a middle-aged watchman and a younger man who joins him as a temporary replacement.
Already visible is Olmi’s detailed minimalism, a style which evokes the richness of the small forgotten moments of everyday life. His first international success, and most influential film, was his second… read more
I have long loved Olmi for his deep affection and humanistic vision that one feels so vividly in his films. This was one that worked on me slowly. Unfortunately the film quality is in need of some real restoration but it still hit home with force. I resonated with this film similarly as when I watched Pasolini's Gospel of St. Matthew. Simplicity brings out such depth. If only there was less of that soldier character.