Ermanno Olmi was born in the alpine town Bergamo, Lombardy on July 24th 1931. His father worked as a railway man and his family lived under poor conditions until 1933 when they decided to leave the region and move to the outskirts of Milan in order to find better-paid jobs. In 1951 Olmi himself began to work as a clerk for Edison-Volta on a hydro-electrical plant, an experience that would influence his later working-class films “Il posto” and “I fidanzati”. In 1952 the company appointed the talented young man to commissioner of leisure time activity, and his new job allowed him to make about 40 documentaries (until 1961) about the workers of Edison-Volta, the early roots for his realist style and preference for non-professional actors.
Despite similarities between his early fictional work and Italian neorealism, Olmi denied to belong to it. Though ideologically linked to most neorealist filmmakers, his milieu studies differ from the melodrama and pain-staking poverty depicted by De Sica and Visconti, or the thuggery and social outcasts depicted by Pasolini, it thus becomes understandable that Olmi preferred to set himself apart from a movement which not just didn’t mirror his own focus, but was also dissolving when he made his first feature in 1959. Instead his reflections on reality are defined by subtle and detached observations of mundane life and a depiction of ordinary working-class citizens. Olmi’s characters don’t struggle against society and its limitations, but rather attune to fit in.
Il posto (1961)
A “safe job” in a large company is the main goal of Domenico, the protagonist of Olmi’s masterpiece “Il posto”. But the sincere young man soon experiences the confinements of work life when his obligations begin to interfere with his privacy and alienate him from his love interest. The dull working routine which expects him and will eventually dominate his entire life leisurely creeps in, toward the end he probably comes to realize what a “safe job” in a modern world means, though it’s already too late to escape its grip. To quote Olmi: “Work is not a damnation for man. It’s a chance to express oneself. But work as it is organized by modern society becomes a condemnation. It annuls people."
Reflecting Reality and Mystery: An Interview with Ermanno Olmi
Oh yes, a very fine and sensitive director, i like his general political slant but it’s not heavy handed or flashy, self-serving. From what i’ve seen he cares about characters and gives some room for us to get to know them, while aware of wider social issues and environment.
Olmi is absolutely fantastic, and I love his sincere humanism. It’s nice that Il Posto and I Fidanzati made it into the criterion collection, but they should fix the cover for I Fidanzati and add The Tree of the Wooden Clogs.
You should watch The profession of Arms (2001).
I think it’s Olmi’s masterpiece.
Probably the closest movie to Tarkovskij I’ve ever seen-
Thanks Marc !
My library has I Fidanzati, Il Posto, and of course The Tree of Wooden Clogs.
…don’t struggle against society and its limitations, but rather attune to fit in.
Shades of Il Deserto Rosso.
This is a director I can already tell, i’ll love
This description looks like something I’m really going to love. Looks like Hartley will have a great opponent!
I really enjoyed Time Stood Still, which is less well known than Il Posto and Tree of the Wooden Clogs.
I preferred I Fidanzati to il Posto, but i recognise that i’m in a minority on that!!
I like Olmi, but i wouldn’t say he is underrated though. He gets credit for some of the films he made.
I don’t think he is brilliant either. Just a really good director.
Time Stood Still was one of the better discoveries of the cup last year, for me anyways. It really wasn’t even a discovery. I had seen Olmis films before, but I think in the case of this one, availability had a lot to do with it. He, along with Pietro Germi, are two Italian masters that I plan on exploring more within the next month or so.
Wonderful director. I Fidantzi is probably his high point. Just sublime in places that really captures the work environment and those wonderfully tacky office parties. Il Posto is a nice opening act for what was to come.
Tree of the Wooden Clogs is often considered his highpoint, but I thought that it was colder than his earlier films. Ialways try to warn people that it’s not an easy film to like if you like pigs.
Keep Walking didn’t really do anything for me.
I enjoyed watching Keep Walking, but everything seems a bit hazy now. Being only a year since I last saw it and at just about 3 hours, it’d seem like I’d remember most of it.
“Time Stood Still” is indeed a wonderful and far too little known work, it was especially the way Olmi depicted the growing intimateness between the two characters which slowly begins to resemble a father-son relation that impressed me. Last year I saw a Russian film called “How I Ended This Summer” which seems to be a semi-remake of this film, though in that case the relation between the two characters is formed by distrust and resentment which nonetheless brings them closer together toward the end. I also liked “I fidanzati” a lot, it´s arguably Olmi´s most minimalist and subtle work. The reason for me not to select it alongside “Il posto” was mainly to display more non-Criterion Olmi given that these are generally harder to come by.
How I Ended This Summer always sounded really interesting to me since it resembles Time Stood Still. Have been meaning to watch it.
Ermanno Olmi is a wonderful director. I would include him in my list of all-time favourite film makers. My own personal favourites are I Fidanzati, Tree of Wooden Clogs and The Legend of the Holy Drinker, the last named a miracle of a film.