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Full Review
Two By Olmi: "Il Posto" and "I Fidanzati"
by Jürgen Fauth

"Il Posto" -  

"I Fidanzati" -  


Italian Ermanno Olmi is a self-taught director. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Olmi didn't rely on studies or schools and instead invented the medium from the ground up. His two early features "Il Posto" and "I Fidenzati," now available on DVD from Criterion, illustrate both the rewards and pitfalls of not knowing what the hell you're doing.

Let's begin with the disappointment: "I Fidenzati" (1962) tells the story of an engaged couple that is separated when the man takes a job in the South of Italy. Giovanni (Carlo Cabrini) leaves his fiancé Liliana (Anna Canzi) behind and goes about his mind-numbing day-to-day life in the new factories of Sicily. Olmi attempts to give the prosaic a kind of industrial lyricism while showing the steep emotional price the separation exacts from the lovers.

But the film doesn't bother to set up the characters and their relationship very well before the man's departure, and until an exchange of letters at the end of the film, there are long patches of silence with not much to hold on to--who are these people, and why do we care? The film's finale, which may or may not be actually happening (Olmi was given to experiments with time eschewed by traditional editing), pays back some of the patience it takes to get there, but for my taste, it was too little, too late.

Only one year earlier, in "Il Posto," Olmi visited the same terrain -- tender, hesitating love and the overwhelming opportunities and demands of Italy's post-war economic boom -- with much better results. Thanks to the extraordinary acting of Sandro Panseri, our sympathies are with the young hero from the start. Domenico comes to Milan to take a test in hopes of a steady position with a large company. In the city, he meets Magali (Loredana Detto), and their fleeting romance is wonderfully warm and brilliantly observed. All the more damning is the soul-deadening influence of the corporate mentality at work, in scenes that anticipate dystopias like "The Hudsucker Proxy" and "Brazil."

Olmi is a meticulous realist interested in the impact of industrialization on communities and personal relationships. The delicate balance between budding emotions and hard-hitting social critique is difficult to achieve. In "I Fidanzati," it eluded him, but "Il Posto" is a wonderfully true movie, warm and horrifying at once. For a self-taught master, one out of two is not a bad ratio at all.

The Criterion Collection DVDs come with copious special features including new interviews with Olmi and his collaborator Tullio Kezich, short films, and essays by critic Kent Jones.

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