Ermanno Olmi’s post-neorealist film “Il Posto”, the director’s first account on modern day working life, centers around the mundane story of an adolescent provincial boy named Domenico who decides to follow his parents’ advice and looks out for a “safe” job as a clerk, hardly noticing that it also determines his private life. He gradually gets absorbed by estrangement and routine while becoming an integral part of a plain bureaucratic company.
One of the most striking elements of “Il Posto” is the use of architectonical space. The film begins in Meda, a small town in the Lombardy Region nearby Milan.
The rural architecture places emphasis on the fact that most of the families living there were actually peasants who moved to the outskirts of the big city in order to improve their chances to find a job. It needs to be taken into account that an economic boom in the late 1950s fundamentally changed the working conditions in Italy and lead to advancing migration from the countryside. Subsequently in the 1960s the consequences of the Marshall Plan allowed countless state-owned and private enterprises to strengthen their export market, and the Northern cities Genoa, Turin and Milan became the main industrial locations which attracted many underpaid peasants from the rural areas. At that time no European economy was growing faster than the one in Italy.
As one of those many displaced peasants, Domenico applies for a job in one of those industrial centers, and finds himself in the unfamiliar reigns of labyrinth-like modern architecture, alienating concrete, not unlike the protagonists of Antonioni’s tetralogy made around the same time. Olmi himself would expand on the interaction of architecture and man in his film “I Fidanzati”. The city itself is characterized by being “under construction”, a gigantic building lot which almost disposes of its inhabitants; the camera constantly perceives “artifical city” in which Domenico attempts to approach his love interest through glass panes, car windows and fume.
While the first part of the film is defined by childish hope and affiance, the second part confronts the protagonist with disenchantment. His temporary appointment makes it difficult to perpetuate the relation to the girl he just met, he already gets a foretaste of the routine that awaits him. At that point Olmi decides to interrupt the straightforward storyline and offers glimpses into the dull private lives of the office clerks. It becomes apparent that the film is not just about Domenico, but about the conditions of modern working life in general. In one of the subsequent scenes Domenico dresses up like a general and looks at himself in the mirror, a false illusion as it becomes ever more obvious; the company is about to invalidate his power.
The anti-climatic New Year’s Eve sequence is at the same time saddening and funny, instead of meeting up with his love interest, he gets invited by an old couple whose main interest is to get hold of his bottle of wine, and lateron a bland girl prompts him to dance. But ultimately Domenico manages to overcome his disappointment and take pleasure in the party.
The last sequence of the film is a bitter social commentary which leaves no doubt in regard to Olmi’s point of view. One day Domenico will have become one of those pettifogging clerks fighting for a desk (screenshot 10), and years of monotonous work will destroy his work. The look on his face tells us he knows it, and that he won’t be able to avert it.
Thanks Apursansar, this has a special itnerest for me as am writing a novel in which “displaced peasants” from the Lombardy region come to Australia to work in a sawmill in western queensland in the 50’s – which actually did happen – so am going to enjoy getting a first hand look at the socio-economic environment they left
God that must have been tough hey!! – talk about culture shock :(
You forgot to mention Domenico’s love interest, Antonietta, was Olmi’s future wife – her only film.
This film took me back to starting out after college…so much about time.
Urgh. I’d put off watching this movie for a long time since the descriptions I read of the film completely failed to capture the feel of the film. So annoying since the movie is great and it took me until last week to finally watch it, so thanks for picking it Apursansar and giving me the excuse I needed to bring it home. I really hate DVD synopses…
On the plus side, the short Criterion included with the film, The Crush, is also really good.
The city itself is characterized by being “under construction”, a gigantic building lot which almost disposes of its inhabitants; the camera constantly perceives “artifical city” in which Domenico attempts to approach his love interest through glass panes, car windows and fume
i loved loved loved these bits especially – thanks apur, a bit like greg above, i wasn’t planning on getting round to this film any time soon, and i’m so glad i have…it’s the italians that have surprised me most in the cup so far….
You’re right, Robert. Loredana Detto later became his wife, but unfortunately she didn’t appear in any other film he made. I also notice that I forgot to include the final screenshot I referred to above, so here it is:
I’m glad that those of you who originally decided to avoid the film got around watching it due to the cup. I regard this little film as one of the peaks of 1960s Italian cinema, it gives much evidence of Olmi’s skill to tell us a simple story in a casual way while at the same time developing a significant social statement. “I Fidanzati” and “The Tree of Wooden Clogs” continue this trend.
Great post Apursansar. I’m glad you posted a discussion thread the same time that I did for Henry Fool. And I’m glad you also have a penchant for displaying many screen shots as well. I’m hoping it will be a close match.
I’m honored to be in a match with you since you were one of my very favorite managers from last year’s cup both in your selections and your behavior. You are always so gracious and stoic and provide such good solid films.
I think Il Posto may be the funniest film you’ve used in a director’s cup so far. Even funnier than Bresson who I do find strangely funny at times.
Olmi mentions this at the end of his special feature section on the Criterion DVD, and when he revealed it for some reason it made me so jelously mad!
Thanks for the kind words, I’m also happy to compete against one of our most consistent participants. Unfortunately I still haven’t found the time to watch “Henry Fool” and might need to catch up on it after the cup is over, but I wish you good luck and am looking forward to an interesting match.
Thanks Apursansar for choosing this film and writing this fine intro.
I was very surprised and pleased by Il Posto and its subtle commentaries on society and working life. The construction of Domenico as a shy, reserved, fairly uncomplicated boy was a very appropiate decision in order to contrast dream and hope with routine and resigned lives. The “safe” job for life as a career can be still found as part of a mythology for both public or private working realities in many countries. Olmi suggests the amalgam between personal life/convictions and company goals/cosmovision. The dead of the clerk by the end and the separation of the company elements from the personal ones could suggest that decease is the only way of divorcing the two worlds.
As we saw in the psychotechnical test scene, Domenico’s answers to crucial questions were practically forced to be the way the company wanted them to be. The crucial questions/answers were statements and promises to keep status quo at the same time (Does the future seem hopeless to you? Has excessive drunkeness ever caused you to lose your job? Does the opposite sex repulse you? Do you often drink to forget your troubles?) and in some way, their compliance was guaranteed by the very perpetual and “safe” nature of the job for life, i.e. A future in exchange of some concessions= Certainty. The absolute opposite to Antonioni’s contemporary tetralogy= Uncertainity/Mutability. However, we can find some elements of uncertainity, “menacing” with their uncomfortable presence the promises of safe job and safe interpersonal relationships.
New Year’s Eve party, organized and sponsored by the company, is then contradictorily, mysteriously and intimately linked with the psychotechnical test.
I need to see this film again, but I’ve always preferred I Fidanzadi
not quite on topic but a review of the newest Olmi from Hollywood Reporter:
Michael Lonsdale, Rutger Hauer and Alessandro Haber star in director-screenwriter Ermanno Olmi’s tale filled with Christian symbolism.
Veteran Italian director Ermanno Olmi’s Catholic faith has shaped many of his films in a very direct way, with mixed results. Filmed from an original screenplay, The Cardboard Village lacks the magic touch of fable that made Golden Lion winner The Legend of the Holy Drinker soar on golden wings. The story of an old priest who braves the police to give shelter to a group of African refugees is an uncomfortable mix of overly literal story-telling and Christian symbols. Its journey will most likely end on the small screen after a brief theatrical bow in Italy.
Michael Lonsdale dons priestly robes as the unnamed pastor of a modern church that is being closed down. He watches in pain and defeat as the paintings and statues are removed from the walls by helmeted workers, along with a life-size crucifix.
Ignoring the reproaches of the sexton (a severe, disapproving Rutger Hauer, another flashback to Holy Drinker), he refuses to leave his life-long home. However, the barren church soon finds a new purpose as a secret refuge for destitute, homeless Africans who have come to Europe in search of a better life.
Pushing the situation into cliché is the simplistic scripting: a pregnant woman gives birth to an angelic child, a boy and a girl shyly eye each other, and an educated engineer debates with young revolutionaries who evidently plan to become suicide bombers. The film’s truest moment is a long soliloquy in which the priest remembers the temptation of a girl’s eyes, long ago, that almost made him leave the priesthood.
Alessandro Haber cameos as a tough-minded police chief, whose armed men persecute the immigrants like Roman soldiers. The film’s very fine classical scoring is the work of composer Sofia Gubaidulina.
Venue: Venice Film Festival (Out of competition)
Production company: Cinemaundici in association with Rai Cinema, Edison
Cast: Michael Lonsdale, Rutger Hauer, Alessandro Haber, Massimo De Francovich, Irima Pino Viney, Elhadji Ibrahima Faye, Fatima Ali, Samuels Leon Delroy, Fernando Chironda, Souleymane Sow, Linda Keny, Blaise Aurelien Ngoungou Essoua
Director: Ermanno Olmi
Screenwriter: Ermanno Olmi
Producer: Luigi Musini
Director of photography: Fabio Olmi
Production designer: Giuseppe Pirrotta
Music: Sofia Gubaidulina
Costumes: Maurizio Millenotti
Editor: Paolo Cottignola
Sales Agent: Rai Trade