L'Albero Degli Zoccoli
L'ALBERO DEGLI ZOCCOLI
(The Tree of the Wooden Clogs)
Director: Ermanno Olmi
Production: RAI (Rete I)-Italnoleggio Cinematografico; Gevacolor, 35mm; running time: 175 minutes. Released 1978, Cannes Film Festival. Filmed on location in Lombardy, Italy; cost: lire 320,000,000.
Producer: Attilio Torricelli; screenplay: Ermanno Olmi; photography: Ermanno Olmi; editor: Ermanno Olmi; sound: Amedeo Casati; art director: Enrico Tovaglieri; music: J. S. Bach, executed on the organ by Fernando Germani; costume designer: Francesca Zucchelli.
Cast: Luigi Ornagli (Batisti); Francesca Moriggi (Baptisti's wife); Omar Brignoli (Minek, the son); Antonio Ferrari (Toni); Teresa Brecianini (Widow Runc); Giuseppe Brignoli (Grandpa Anselmo); Carlo Rota (Peppino); Pasqualina Brolis (Teresina); Massimo Fratus (Pierino); Francesca Villa (Annetta); Maria Grazia Caroli (Bettina); Battista Trevaina (Finard); Giuseppina Sangaletti (Mrs. Finard); Lorenzo Pedroni (Grandpa Finard); Felice Cervi (Usti); Pierangelo Bertoli (Secondo); Brunella Migliaccio (Olga); Franco Pilenga (Stefano, Maddalena's husband); Guglielmo Badoni and Laura Locatelli (Stefano's parents); Carmelo Silva (Don Carlo); Mario Brignoli (Landowner); Emilio Pedroni (Farm Bailiff); Vittorio Cappelli (Frichi); Francesca Bassurini (Suor Maria); Lina Ricci (Woman of the "Segno").
Awards: Palme d'Or, Cannes Film Festival, 1978; David of Donatello special plaque award to Olmi, Italy, 1978; New York Film Critics Award, Best Foreign Film, 1979.
"A facida faja: rezletch a forzatokonyvbol" (script extract), in Filmkultura (Budapest), January-February 1979.
Olmi, Ermanno, L'albero degli zoccoli, Bergamo, 1979.
Dell'Acqua, Gian Piero, L'albero degli zoccoli nell'Italia 1978, Milan, 1979.
Dillon, Jeanne, Ermanno Olmi, Florence, 1986.
Ahlander, L., "Traskor och diktatorer Rapport fran Cannes 78," in Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 157, 1978.
Devillers, M., and others, "Ermanno Olmi," in Cinématographe (Paris), no. 40, 1978.
Prono, F., in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), July-August 1978.
Masson, A., and others, in Positif (Paris), September 1978.
Zambetti, S., "La realta contadina del Bergamasco nel film di Olmi e nei dati storici," in Cineforum (Bergamo), November 1978.
Borseno, C., in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), series 23, 1979.
McCormick, R., in Cineaste (New York), no. 4, 1979.
Bonneville, L., in Séquences (Montreal), April 1979.
Salje, G., in Film und Ton (Munich), May 1979.
Coleman, John, in New Statesman (London), 11 May 1979.
Castell, D., in Films Illustrated (London), June 1979.
D'Elia, G., "Angeli e peccatori nell' Albero degli zoccoli," in Cineforum (Bergamo), June 1979.
Pym, John, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), June 1979.
Seesslen, G., "Das Land verliert, die Stadt gewinnt, der Bauer wird vertrieben," in Film und Ton (Munich), June 1979.
Canby, Vincent, in New York Times, 1 June 1979.
Kauffmann, Stanley, "Curious Career," in New Republic (New York), 2 June 1979.
Sarris, Andrew, in Village Voice (New York), 4 June 1979.
Kroll, Jack, "An Italian Classic," in Newsweek (New York), 4 June 1979.
Gill, Brendan, in New Yorker, 18 June 1979.
Martin R., in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1979.
Simon, John, "The Soil and the Soiled," in National Revue (New York), 3 August 1979.
Gladych, Michael B., in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1980–81.
Hirshfield, C., in Film and History (Newark, New Jersey), February 1981.
Leigh, Mike, "L'arbre aux sabots," in Positif (Paris), June 1994.
* * *
At the same time, Italy produced two films about peasant life at the turn of the century: Bertolucci's 1900 and Olmi's Tree of the Wooden Clogs, yet Olmi's work received more unqualified praise and caused more fierce debate than did the opus of his younger colleague. After Tree won the Golden Palm at Cannes, there were those who declared it a masterpiece, a supreme vision of beauty and poetry, a profoundly humanist testament. The film didn't deal directly with history; it was history. Other critics viewed it as an egocentric and myopic vision, dealing with personal nostalgia, negating historical and social issues, and taking refuge in a strict Catholicism. Everyone, no matter what their ideological bias, did agree that it was an exceedingly beautiful work of formal perfection. With this, his ninth feature, Olmi shared the limelight that had not been his since the time of Il posto and I fidanzati. Tree of the Wooden Clogs belongs to the finest works of the tradition of cinematic realism. Olmi has stated that the masters who had greatly influenced him were Robert Flaherty (especially Louisiana Story and Man of Aran) and Roberto Rossellini. One could add Georges Rouquier's study of French Catholic farmers in Farrebique and Luchino Visconti's epic-length film on Sicilian fishermen, La terra trema. In regard to this tradition, Olmi's film has both similarities and differences. Like all the above, Olmi feels a deep dedication to his work and often spends years carefully choosing his subject matter and planning each film project. Olmi had conceived the idea 20 years before he realized this film; he had based his subject on stories told to him by his grandfather. For the film, like Visconti, Olmi spent months living in villages and interviewing thousands of peasants, a score of which became the principal actors of the film. Olmi began without a definite script; the actions and dialogue came from the actors themselves. Rare to Italian cinema, Olmi insisted upon shooting with direct sound and utilizing only the Bergamesque dialect, although, like Visconti in 1948, marketing difficulties demanded that Olmi produce a version in Italian as well. In this case, however, the Italian version was dubbed by the actors themselves. Olmi obtained a completely natural performance from his characters who are all framed in centrally based compositions in the film. Although there are many close-ups, the eyes of the characters are rarely aimed directly at the camera and thus do not confront the spectator. The richly saturated colors—russets, deep greens, browns, and tans—are earth tones natural to the countryside and peasant life.
Except in a few isolated cases, the Italian cinema has rarely dealt directly with the peasantry, but Olmi has added nothing extra to what would normally occur in the pre-industrial countryside. As in the best of the realist tradition, all shooting was done on location and natural lighting prevails. Contrary to Rossellini and Visconti, and much closer to Rouquier, for example, is the fact that almost nothing happens in the film. Given its episodic nature that follows seasonal changes in the lives of five families in Lombardy, the highlights are the birth of a baby, the slaughtering of a pig, the discovery of a gold coin in the dirt, a couple's honeymoon trip on a barge to Milan, and a father who cuts down a tree in order to make a sandal for his son, from whence comes the film's title. One particular scene caused much of the divided critical opinion—the miracle of the cow. A woman's cow is ill; she prays for it and it miraculously regains its health. Olmi here stressed the primacy of religious faith; a Catholicism which offered a world of culture and learning to the peasantry as well as providing a source of magic and myth, symbols and stories.
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