September 24, 2013  |  An Auteurist History of Film
Ermanno Olmi’s Il Posto
Il Posto (The Job/The Sound of Trumpets). 1961. Italy. Directed by Ermanno Olmi

Il Posto (The Job/The Sound of Trumpets). 1961. Italy. Directed by Ermanno Olmi

These notes accompany screenings of Ermanno Olmi’s </em>Il Posto</a> on September 25, 26, and 27 in Theater 3.</p>

Ermanno Olmi, now 82, made some three-dozen short documentary films (many for the electric company in Milan) before Il Posto (The Job/The Sound of Trumpets), his first narrative feature. This helps to account for the assured, polished quality of the film, however episodic it may be. Most of his films are set in Milan and the surrounding Lombardy area. Thus, his satirical depiction of a modern city and the dehumanization of its bureaucratic structure (suggesting perhaps that it will lead to suicide) is deeply rooted in Olmi’s personal experience. Milan is the city that produced Silvio Berlusconi, just a few years after Olmi’s own birth, and it is a society whose commitment to a certain vision of modernity is far removed from the classical tradition and historical focus of Rome, Venice, or Florence. So Olmi’s films are a product of his personal history, perhaps more so than most filmmakers.

The director’s films have clear roots in Neorealism, but he breaks with Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, and Vittorio De Sica in their drift toward using professional actors, box-office stars like Burt Lancaster, Ingrid Bergman, and Sophia Loren. The young woman who plays Antonietta in Il Posto wound up becoming Mrs. Olmi, and Domenico, the film’s hero, is clearly autobiographical. Whereas Federico Fellini could turn his youth in Rimini into a thing of charm and poetry in I Vitelloni, Olmi’s alter ego works in an unadorned office amidst back-stabbing colleagues in dead-end jobs. His one night of potential joy, the annual office party, turns out to be a long and frustrating ordeal.

Olmi enjoyed a brief vogue on the international scene with Il Posto and The Fiancés (1963). He was somewhat comparable to the British Realist directors of the period (Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson), but they would shortly go off in other and more commercial directions. In 1978, Olmi returned to prominence with The Tree of Wooden Clogs, his epic depiction of the life of northern Italian peasants. Although he remains active, much of Olmi’s output in recent decades has been for television and a return to documentaries. An audience that proved somewhat receptive to simple but meaningful black-and-white films in the 1960s has given way all too often to one seeking glitzy, digital, and generally mind-numbing pyrotechnics.


We’ve now reached the early 1960s in our more-or-less chronological march through auteurist history. So it will still be a while before we enter the more recent decades. However, beginning this week, thanks to the efforts of my colleagues Jytte Jensen and Ron Magliozzi, you will have the opportunity to skip ahead and see the films (and artwork in a gallery exhibition) of the master designer Dante Ferretti. Ferretti has worked with many of the major auteurs since the late 1960s, including Pier Paolo Pasolini, Fellini, Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, and Julie Taymor. The major thrust of our auteurist series is to emphasize the predominance of the director. However, one measure of a director’s greatness lies in his choice of collaborators. Wise is the director who has recognized Mr. Ferretti’s genius.