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Now on DVD: “Il posto” (Ermanno Olmi, 1961)

De Sica characters in Antonioni landscapes, that’s Ermanno Olmi’s Il posto. The larva-like protagonist (Sandro Panseri) is introduced under a cocoon of bedcovers in his parents’ provincial home before heading off to apply for “a secure job for life” in a Milanese corporation, the post of the title. The test, which consists of a mathematical exam (one hour in a palace’s cavernous storage room to solve a single fraction problem), a physical checkup (squatting and stretching before the company doctor) and a psychiatric interview (“Do you suffer from frequent itching?”), offers the first of several keen adumbrations of Kafka. Suggesting a bull calf in an oversized coat, the lad shyly comes to life while window-shopping and sharing expresso cups or perfume droplets with a fellow candidate (Loredana Detto) during a tentative lunchtime flirtation. He becomes a messenger’s apprentice and she a typist, but separate departments and mismatched breaks squash the blossoming romance. Milan here is clearly the same city from La notte, excavated streets mixed with towers of glass and marble that seem to still have the store wrap on them, yet Olmi’s eye for human detail keeps it from turning into Ennuiville. Despite the blank walls and the blasting light, rooms and corridors are still filled with people—the camera could easily drop the young protagonist and follow the toothpick-chewing café patron who reads the grisliest newspaper items out loud, or the amateur tenor who just has sing an aria at every gathering, or the elderly retiree who still helplessly adheres to the company schedule. The New Year’s Eve party is a beautiful vision of forced merriness awkwardly giving way to communal euphoria (Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball is a full study). That sequence’s stretching of awkward time contrasts sharply with the abrupt sketching of the “toady” co-worker, who threatens to fade into the wallpaper until his death suddenly leaves an empty desk in the middle of the clerks’ room. Alienation dawning on Panseri’s Buster Keaton eyes provides the closing image, scored to the grinding clatter of office machinery—the “sound of trumpets” promised by the film’s original English title?

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