Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi, 1961)

The unassuming grace of Ermanno Olmi’s early ‘60s feature, Il Posto (The Job), becomes even more apparent in the era of high concepts, expensive stars, and special effects. Employing amateurs and real citizens as extras, as well as filming in only actual locations, Olmi was able to elicit natural (not naturalistic) performances and involve the viewer in everyday life and struggles. If this concept seems slight or dull, especially when used to highlight a young man’s entry into a Kafkaesque office workforce, it is Olmi’s use of space and editing that imbues realism with the substance of art.

Il Posto is unabashedly autobiographical but strongly universal. It tells the story of Domenico (Sandro Panseri), a soulfully sad Italian youth from the suburbs applying for a big city career. He is subjected to simple psychological, physical, and mathematical exams, yet is degraded by literally competing beside a host of applicants of varying ages and expressions. The only saving grace is the presence of pretty Antonietta (Loredana Detto), the only other applicant of Domenico’s age group. She’s bright and assured where he’s uncertain and reticent. Olmi counterpoints their quietly budding relationship with the cul-de-sac existence of the office workers. While the employees have been hammered over the years into finding the office building as their primary place of life and existence, Domenico sees Antonietta as a new opportunity brought by the job. When they are separated by differing departments, Domenico, now an assistant mail worker, still tries to find chances to meet her. A New Year’s office party proves fruitless in his quest to make more of their relationship, but he still finds fun and excitement, however minor and short-lived, among his fellow drones. A clerk dies soon after, and Domenico obtains this position, providing an ambiguous end to the film and beginning to his office life.

Olmi’s strengths as a filmmaker lie in realism, performance, and sympathy. A true humanist, he finds the strengths and weaknesses of his characters as facets in the same raw gem. His cuts between the faces of Domenico and Antonietta, greatly enhanced by the unpolished beauty of Panseri and Detto, reveal more about their personalities than any number of pages of dialogue ever could. The darting of eyes, the pursing of lips...it is these facial tics that show the true nature of human beings, and Olmi captures them without force or urgency. But the director is not simply about close-ups; he also frames the crowded applicants like cattle in a pen, or a lone clerk engulfed by spacious, labyrinthine hallways. For all of the inherent social and economic commentary, there is much more importance weighted on people, relationships, and community. This is where Ermanno Olmi’s true allegiance and interests lie, not with observations only on the sordid state of the postwar world, but in the simple, uncertain, yet undeniably dramatic lives of everyday citizens.

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