Nationality: Italian. Born: Bergamo, 24 July 1931. Education: Attended Accadémia d'Arte Drammatica, Milan. Family: Married Loredana Detto, three children. Career: Worked for electric company Edisonvolta S.p.A., Milan, from 1949; director and supervisor of over forty shorts and documentaries for sponsor Edisonvolta, 1952–61; directed first feature, semi-documentary Il tempo si è fermato, 1959; formed production company "22 December S.p.A." with Tullio Kezich and others, 1961; TV director, from 1964; co-founded Hypothesis Cinema, a school for aspiring directors; formed Ipotesi Cinema, a workshop for young filmmakers, at Bassano del Grappa, 1980s.
Films as Director:
La digi sul ghiaccio (short/doc) (+ spvr)
La pattuglia di passo San Giacomo (short/doc) (+ spvr)
Società Ovesticino-Dinamo (short/doc) (+ spvr); Cantiere d'inverno (short/doc) (+ spvr); La mia valle (short/doc)(+ spvr); L'onda (short/doc) (+ spvr); Buongiorno natura(short/doc) (+ spvr)
Michelino la B (short/doc) (+ spvr); Construzione meccaniche riva (short/doc) (+ spvr)
Tre fili fino a Milano (short/doc) (+ spvr); Giochi di Colonia(short/doc) (+ spvr); Venezia città minore (short/doc) (+ spvr)
Il tempo si è fermato (Time Has Stopped; Time Stood Still)(+ sc, spvr)
Il grande paese d'Acciaio (short/doc) (+ spvr)
Le grand barrage (short/doc) (+ spvr); Un metro lungo cinque(short/doc) (+ spvr); Il posto (The Sound of Trumpets; The Job) (+ sc)
I fidanzati (The Fiancés; The Engagement) (+ pr, sc)
. . . e venne un uomo (A Man Called John; And There Came a Man) (+ co-sc)
Un certo giorno (One Fine Day) (+ sc, ed)
I recuperanti (The Scavengers) (+ co-sc, ph) (for TV)
Durante l'estate (During the Summer; In the Summertime)(+ co-sc, ph, ed) (for TV)
La circostanza (The Circumstance) (+ pr, sc, ph, ed) (for TV)
L'albero degli zoccoli (The Tree of the Wooden Clogs)(+ sc, ph, ed)
Cammina, cammina (Keep Walking)
Milano '83 (doc)
Lunga Vita alla Signora (Long Live the Lady!) (+ sc, co-ph)
La leggenda del santo bevitore (The Legend of the Holy Drinker) (+ sc, ed)
Lungo il fiume (Along the River) (+ sc, ed)
Il segreto del bosco vecchio (The Secret of the Old Forest)(+ sc)
Genesis: The Creation and the Flood (+ sc)
Il Denaro non esiste (co-d)
Il Mestiere delle armi
La tesatura meccanica della linea a 220.000 volt (short/doc)(spvr); San Massenza (Cimego) (short/doc) (spvr)
Pantano d'avio (short/doc) (spvr); Peru—Istituto de Verano(short/doc) (spvr); Fertilizzanti complessi (short/doc) (spvr)
Fibre e civilta (short/doc) (spvr); Progresso in agricoltura(short/doc) (spvr); Campi sperimentali (short/doc) (spvr)
Colonie Sicedison (short/doc) (spvr); Bariri (short/doc) (spvr); Il frumento (short/doc) (spvr)
El frayle (short/doc) (spvr); Fertiluzzanti produtti dalla Societa del Gruppo Edison (short/doc) (spvr); Cavo olio fludio 220.000 volt (short/doc) (spvr); Auto chiese (short/doc)(spvr); Natura e chimica (short/doc) (spvr)
Il pomodoro (short/doc) (spvr); Il sacco in Plypac (short/doc)(spvr); Po: forza 50.000 (short/doc) (pr)
Una storia milanese (E. Visconti) (role)
By OLMI: book—
Il ragazzo dell Bovisa, Milan, 1986.
By OLMI: articles—
Interview with Gideon Bachmann, in Nation (New York), 25 May 1964.
"Ermanno Olmi, a Conversation with John Francis Lane," in Sightand Sound (London), Summer 1970.
Interview with A. Tassone, in Cinéma (Paris), January 1976.
Interview with M. Devillers and others, in Cinématographe (Paris), no. 40, 1978.
Interview with J. A. Gili and L. Codelli, in Positif (Paris), November 1983.
Interview with Don Ranvaud, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), October 1988.
"Ermanno Olmi: non sono un divo," an interview with F. Cattaneo, in Cinematografo, January 1993.
On OLMI: books—
Samuels, Charles Thomas, Encountering Directors, New York, 1972.
Tassone, Aldo, Parla il cinema italiano, II, Milan, 1980.
Witcombe, Roger, The New Italian Cinema, New York, 1983.
Bondanella, Peter, Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present, New York, 1983.
Liehm, Mira, Passion and Defiance: Film in Italy from 1942 to thePresent, Berkeley, 1984.
Dillon, Jeanne, Ermanno Olmi, Florence, 1986.
Marcus, Millicent, Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism, Princeton, 1986.
Tabanelli, Giorgio, Ermanno Olmi: nascita del documentario poetica, Rome, 1987.
Brunetta, Gian Piero, Cent'anni di cinema italiano, Rome, 1991.
Sitney, P. Adams, Vital Crises in Italian Cinema, Austin, 1995.
On OLMI: articles—
Lane, J. F., "The Triumph of Italy's Realism," in Films and Filming (London), December 1961.
Solomos, G. P., "Ermanno Olmi," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1962.
Kauffman, Stanley, "A Fine Italian Hand," in New Republic (New York), 15 February 1964.
Houston, Penelope, "The Organisation Man," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1964.
Walsh, M., "Ermanno Olmi," in Monogram (London), Summer 1971.
Gervais, M., "Ermanno Olmi: Humanism in the Cinema," in Sightand Sound (London), Autumn 1978.
Special section on L'Albero degli zoccoli, in Positif (Paris), September 1978.
Elley, Derek, "Ermanno Olmi," in International Film Guide 1981, London, 1980.
De Santi, G., "Il tradimento e la vendetta dei chierici," in Cineforum (Bergamo), January/February 1984.
Kennedy, Harlan, "Searching for the Star Child," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1984.
Kieffer, A., "A la recherche d'Olmi," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), February/March 1988.
Keates, J., "Inn the cascina," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1988/89.
Kinder, Marsha, "The Subversive Potential of the Pseudo-iterative," in Film Quarterly, Winter 1989/90.
Casagrande, L., "Ermanno Olmi," in Film en Televisie + Video, January 1991.
Ricci, Steven, "Una sfida utopica a Bassano del Grappa," in CinemaNuovo (Bari), January-February 1993.
Film Dope (Nottingham), June 1993.
Segnocinema (Vicenza), November/December 1993.
Scandaletti, P., "Olmi, poeta della natura," in Rivista DelCinematografo (Rome), November 1993.
Suchet, Simone, "Les fils du néoréalisme," in Cinémaction (Courbevoie), January 1994.
Holloway, Ron, in Filmrutan (Sundsvall), vol. 38, no. 1, 1995.
* * *
Ermanno Olmi, born in Bergamo in 1931, is the Italian filmmaker most committed to and identified with a regional heritage. His films are distinctly Lombardian; for the most part they describe life in Milan, the provincial capital (for example, Il posto, Un certo giorno, Durante l'estate and La circonstanza). He has also filmed in the Lombardian Alps (Il tempo si è fermato), and his native Bergamo (L'albero degli zoccoli), but even when he ventures to Sicily, it is to make a film of a Milanese worker temporarily assigned to the south who longs for home (I fidanzati), and when he makes a semi-documentary biography (. . . e venne un uomo), it is of the Lombardian Pope, John XXIII.
Furthermore, his work bears affinities to the central literary figure of the Lombardian tradition, Alessandro Manzoni, whose great historical novel, I promessi sposi, is variously reflected in at least three of Olmi's films: most directly in I findanzati, whose very title recasts the 1827 novel, but also in the idealization of a great ecclesiastic (. . . e venne un uomo), and in the vivid recreation of a past century (L'albero degli zoccoli), which portrays peasant life in the late nineteenth century rather than Manzoni's seventeenth. The most significant Manzonian characteristic of Olmi's cinema is its Catholicism: of all the major Italian filmmakers he has the least problematic relationship with the Church. He embodies the spirit of the "opening to the Left" which has characterized both religious and parliamentary politics in Italy since the early 1960s. For the most part, his films center upon an individual worker caught between employment and an individual quest to assert dignity through labor. Quite often this tension carries over from work to the conjugal or preconjugal love life of the protagonist.
Like Pasolini, Rosi, and Bertolucci, Olmi is a filmmaker nurtured by postwar neorealism. Like his great precursors, Rossellini, De Sica, and Visconti, he has worked extensively with amateur actors, chosen simplified naturalistic settings, eschewed elaborate artifices or lighting, and employed an ascetic camera style. What mobility his camera has comes largely from his extensive use of the zoom lens. In contrast, however, to the first generation of neorealists, he has a high tolerance for abstraction and ambiguity in his storytelling. Dramatic and emotional moments are consistently understated. Instead of a mobile camera, he has relied heavily upon montage (especially in the intercutting of scenes between Milan and Sicily in I fidanzati) and even more on the overlapping of sounds. In fact, Olmi's meticulous attention to sound, his isolation and manipulation of auditory details, tends to transform his realistically photographed scenes into psychologically inflected domains of space and time.
After L'albero degli zoccoli, the predominately latent religiosity in his cinema became more manifest. Cammina, cammina recounts a version of the story of the Three Wise Men seeking the Christ child. La leggenda del santo bevitore turns the last days of a Parisian clochard into a parable of divine intervention. Its plot is perhaps more characteristic of Rohmer than Olmi, but the filmmaker uses it to reimagine the simple daily activities of proletarian life through the eyes of a drunkard bewildered by his sudden streak of good fortune. Similarly, in a wholly secular mode, Lunga Vita alla Signora returns to the topos of Il tempo si e fermato and Il posto after nearly thirty years to glimpse the intricacies of an affluent family reunion from the perspective of a naive adolescent in his first job as a busboy in an elegant Alpine hotel.
Olmi released two films in 1992, Lunga il fiume, a poetic documentary on the Po River, and Il segreto del Bosco vecchio, a fable adapted from Dino Buzzati, set in the Dolomites before the First World War, in which a sentient forest, with talking animals and winds, defeats the plans of a retired colonel for its commercial exploitation. Both films celebrate nature as a conduit of Divinity. The commentary of Lunga il fiume even allegorizes the outpouring of the river into the Adriatic as a type of Jesus's kenosis and death.
Throughout the 1980s Olmi directed a workshop for young filmmakers, Ipotesi Cinema, at Bassano del Grappa. In the face of radically reduced film production and the domination of television in Italy, Ipotesi Cinema was a utopian project for helping filmmakers find alternative modes of production and financing without compromising the originality of their ideas.
—P. Adams Sitney