Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Tree of Wooden Clogs

L'Albero degli zoccoli; drama, Italy, 1978; D: Ermanno Olmi, S: Luigi Ornaghi, Francesca Moriggi, Omar Brignoli

Lombardy, end of the 19th century. Four farmer families live in a commune in order to work from there on the land of the wealthy landlord. The families are very poor, but have patience and understanding. One widow, mother to six children, says a prayer to Christ so he may save her sick cow, her only income. The widow takes some water from a creek and gives it to the cow, which is indeed healed the next morning; grandfather Anselmo hopes to plant his tomatoes first; the farmers butcher a pig. One farmer, Batisti, is father of three children. His son Minec goes to school, but his wooden shoe breaks, so Batista hacks a tree in order to make him a new shoe. The landlord eventually finds out, and punishes Batista by expelling him and his family from his property.

One of those fake masterworks, art drama "The Tree of Wooden Clogs" won the Golden Palm in Cannes and is occasionally mentioned by cineasts and film critics as a great piece of filmmaking, but is an overrated and overlong minimalist rural drama. Director Ermanno Olmi strives towards realism, without any fakery or glamour: he shows four farmer families who live in very poor conditions, walk in mud because there are no streets or put chicken droppings in the soil for fertilizer with their hands, and does not even shy from unpleasant moments (two shocking and graphic sequences of butchering a goose and a pig), whereas even the actors seem like authentic people, without any false pathos. However, the movie is without a poetic touch of a Pasolini or a Fellini, too straight-forward and monotone, with a, nota bene, too intrusive forcing of Christian religion. "The Tree" has only two wonderful sequences stemming from the 'slice-of-life' choice of style - the sweet moment where two girls are switching turns while sitting on a wheelbarrow while the other drives it and the charming subplot where grandpa Anselmo shows his granddaughter how to plant and raise ripe tomatoes before everyone else - which is enough for a good film, but not for a great one, since the rest of the film's events are rather bland and it will depend for whom they will suffice to carry a running time of three hours. It never reaches the magic of a 'slice-of-life' of a Miyazaki or a Takahata. However, it has a great little sequence where Batista chops a tree and then spends the whole night in devotion by modelling it to fit his son's wooden shoe.


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