My introduction to Ermanno Olmi’s cinema is an experience that is as sublime and as contemplative to put in words as watching my first Tarkovsky (Andrei Rublev) or my first Angelopoulos (Landscape in the Mist). Olmi portrayed it with salt of serious honesty that I’ve to bow my head. Claimed by many critics, the film is his ‘Mastepiece’ and it deservingly won the honour of Grand prize at
The film is placid idyllic portrait of countryside Italian farmer family’s life and survival on shared farmstead in
Lombardy at the end of century. Shot in
natural light and location with refined minimalist approach, the film is devoid
of any sort of artificiality. It bears nearly three hours long length. The pace
of the film is slow and its essential to give its audience a close room for
thought to set themselves in time and space of those idyllic and yet busy
communal life of peasants focusing a single family. We see what the family does
for survival in short shots where each member adjusting with set way of life
full of dignified labour with embracing honesty. The portrayal is so serene,
sublime and almost poetic!
Several stories emerge out of details- a father cutting down a wooden tree to make shoes for his son, a grandfather along with a little girl planting and reaping the tomatoes much before the season, courtship and wedding of modest young couple and adapting of orphan infant. There’s so much poise and tranquility in narration with elegance in disposition of frames free from stress or emotion or any other conventional cinematic manipulation. There is struggle for every family member. For example- a twelve year old has to earn something as they don’t have enough to live on. There’s a question whether two daughters stay with them or send to church orphanage. On dinner table, the mother takes serious opinion from an elder son who’s just fourteen or fifteen years old and earning for family and his opinion and responsibility sounds so mature and concerning to his age! How they rear their children and animals alike and how the children grow mature too early to their age is something so introspective to ponder. Infact in how many films, we see the faith in prayers in such internal and integral way! That prayer to save the dying cow is spiritual high of the film. It’s director’s point to to show positive role of religious faith in peasant’s lives.
The way Olmi used the world and portrayal of children in the film demands altogether new topic of discussion. The grandfather is the most amusing character and not only for children but for other family members too, that scary story demanded everybody’s attention.Bach’s western classical harmony is used as background score and it adds the depth and texture to its timelessness. The natural sound whether an infant’s cry, chirping of birds or distant church bell constantly gives us feeling of close proximity to its surrounding.
It’s insult to call this just a film, as its something like this that establish cinema to much higher ground than mere depiction of art or aesthetics as collective art; it’s a document of meditation on nature and humanity.