November 21, 2011

Il posto (Italy 1961)

Why are there not more films about work life? Isn't this where people spend the majority of their time? Sure, there are TV shows like "Mad Men" and "The Office" but there haven't been a lot of feature films about the job market and office life, let alone good ones. Mostly, work is treated as a circumstance but not as a main subject.

One of the best films about work is Ermanno Olmi's touching film "Il posto" which celebrates its 50 year anniversary this year. The details (typewriters, anyone?) notwithstanding, the film remains quite relevant today. Companies are shown as dehumanizing entities and young people are somehow exploited by the older generation. The only thing that is missing is an "Occupy Wall Street" movement. The film also shows work in a larger context as the loss of innocence. In this regard, the film certainly has aged. Back then, young people started their first jobs much earlier, often at the age of 15. They went directly from childhood to adulthood and were forced to grow up quickly. Some people - especially the generation which experienced it - would probably argue that this is a good thing but the film suggests that while a steady job offers security, it also takes away freedom and somehow brakes your free will. The small love story is vital to the film: it shows - as the director himself described it - the rare, precious opportunities for finding love among the colorless, grey days which are the majority in anyone's life. Love, not work, the film seems to say, is what life is ultimately about.

Ermanno Olmi's autobiographical film is filmed in a simple, straightforward way that does without the visual splendor Italian cinema was known for at the time. Nor is it - given its subject - particularly exciting or glamourous. Why may be one reason why the director is not as well known as such flamboyant peers as Visconti, Fellini and Antonioni. In the tradition of neoralism - albeit not quite as radical and raw - he focuses on authenticity and the common people which those more famous Italian directors of the time mostly neglected.


His body is at work but his mind isn't

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