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Life’s Work: The Cinema of Ermanno Olmi

September 25, 2009 - October 30, 2009

The Tree of Wooden Clogs, September 27, October 17

“Work is man’s chance to express himself . . . What I am against is the relationship man has today with the world in which he works.”—Ermanno Olmi

Work—its rhythms, movements, pleasures, and pains—is at the heart of the cinema of Italian director Ermanno Olmi. Best known for sly critiques of workplace drudgery like Il posto, and for later combinations of epic majesty and neorealist minutiae like the Palme d’Or–winning Tree of Wooden Clogs, Olmi (b. 1931) began his career as a clerk in a power company that soon promoted him to making short documentaries. His 1959 feature debut, Time Stood Still, continued in the tradition of Italian neorealists like Vittorio de Sica yet also took an original, sweetly comic approach to the human condition, and specifically the condition of labor. Whether being slowly bored (Il posto) or worked (Tree of Wooden Clogs) to death, Olmi’s characters are far removed from the dogmatic sufferings doled out by less subtle directors; with its focus on the physical facts of working-class life, his cinema is one of concern and awe, not condemnation. “For Olmi,” writes critic Kent Jones, “everybody is a hero.”

In later years Olmi’s deep love of the nature of work metamorphosed into a similar love for the work of nature; such films as Cammina Cammina, Secret of the Old Woods, and the new Slow Food documentary Terra Madre take their deepest pleasure in revealing humanity’s relationship with the natural world, filmed with a simple purity that’s rare in contemporary cinema. Please join us in exploring the cinema of this underrated, understated director, including the Bay Area premiere of Terra Madre.

Jason Sanders
Associate Film Notes Writer

Friday, September 25, 2009
6:30 p.m. Time Stood Still
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1959). An isolated dam in the snowcapped Italian Alps is the spectacular setting for this semi-documentary look at the relationship between two workers, young and old. “Olmi’s inconspicuous debut was an event of quite extraordinary importance for the future.”—Mira Liehm (80 mins)

Friday, September 25, 2009
8:15 p.m. Terra Madre
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 2009). A riveting look inside the famed Terra Madre conference, centerpiece of the Slow Food movement. “At times rousing, at other times contemplative, this beautiful documentary addresses the greatest issues of our time.”—Hollywood Reporter (78 mins)

Sunday, September 27, 2009
5:00 p.m. The Tree of Wooden Clogs
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1978). Olmi won the Palme d’Or (and nearly swept the Cannes festival’s other prizes) with this intimate epic of life, love, and work among three peasant families in turn-of-the-century Italy, a film of majesty made from minutiae. “A fully articulated work of cinematic art.”—Andrew Sarris (186 mins)

Saturday, October 3, 2009
6:30 p.m. Il posto
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1961). Olmi’s humane, funny, and heartbreaking portrait of a young man embarking on his first job in Milan captures the alienation and regimentation of the working world. (93 mins)

Saturday, October 3, 2009
8:25 p.m. The Fiancés
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1963). A young couple’s love is tested, first by the man’s job in a massive Milanese factory, then by his transfer to Sicily. “Achieves a poetry as intense, as concentrated, as personal as a Japanese haiku.”—Sunday Times (76 mins)

Sunday, October 4, 2009
6:30 p.m. Cammina Cammina
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1983). Olmi’s retelling of the Journey of the Magi reconfirms the magic of his cinema. “Pure delight . . . feather light and full of life.”—Film Comment (165 mins)

Saturday, October 10, 2009
6:30 p.m. One Fine Day
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1969). A middle-class advertising executive suffers a crisis of conscience after a tragic accident in Olmi’s surprisingly tender portrait of bourgeois comforts, alternately neorealist and ultra-modernist. “Superbly disturbing and beautiful.”—Michael Armitage (102 mins)

Sunday, October 11, 2009
5:20 p.m. The Scavengers
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1970). Two desperate men—one older, one much younger—comb the rugged Dolomite Mountains for iron scraps in postwar Italy. “Deceptively simple, it speaks volumes about our rat-race civilization in its vivid, quizzically funny way.“—Time Out (94 mins)

Friday, October 16, 2009
8:30 p.m. The Circumstance
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1974). An upper-class Milanese family is brought together through a series of circumstances, some tragic, others bizarre, in Olmi’s “most complex, modernist film.”—Film Society of Lincoln Center (97 mins)

Saturday, October 17, 2009
7:30 p.m. The Tree of Wooden Clogs
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1978). See September 27. (186 mins)

Friday, October 23, 2009
8:35 p.m. Long Live the Lady!
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1987). Six young hotel-management graduates prepare a very unusual feast for an even more unusual clientele in this food-centric satire of bourgeois hypocrisy and delusions. ”Irresistibly funny. . . an incredibly rich tapestry of human behavior.”—Tom Milne (105 mins)

Saturday, October 24, 2009
8:30 p.m. The Legend of the Holy Drinker
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1988). Rutger Hauer is a luckless drunkard in Paris whose life changes after a chance encounter in Olmi’s mystical look at redemption and spirituality, based on a Joseph Roth story. “Humanity breathes through this moving film.”—Dilys Powell (128 mins)

Sunday, October 25, 2009
5:15 p.m. The Secret of the Old Woods
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 1993). A retired colonel wants to cut down a forest, but the forest has other ideas in this eco-friendly fable, part children’s film, part industrial critique. (140 mins)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
7:00 p.m. Terra Madre
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 2009). See September 25. (78 mins)

Friday, October 30, 2009
6:30 p.m. One Hundred Nails
Ermanno Olmi (Italy, 2007). Olmi’s final narrative feature pits religious orthodoxy and book knowledge against spiritual humanism and direct experience as a philosophy professor abandons academic life and moves to live among the people. (92 mins)

Series curated by Susan Oxtoby. Presented in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco. PFA wishes to thank the following individuals and institutions for their assistance with this series: Camilla Cormanni and Rosaria Folcarelli, Cinecitta Luce S.p.A.; Amelia Carpentino Antonucci and Valeria Rumori, Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco; and Carmen Accaputo, Cineteca di Bologna.