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I Fidanzati: The Criterion Collection

Ermanno Olmi is the ultimate neorealist director. Indeed, he may be the truest neorealist. Influenced by Roberto Rossellini, the "founder" of postwar neorealism (shouldn't it have been called simply "realism"?), as well as by Pasolini, the movement's most radical and controversial participant, Olmi was one of the few neorealists with working-class roots. Using non-professional actors, as per neorealist principles, and financing his films independently from the Italian film studios, Olmi tells stories about ordinary people in the real world, their workaday trials and tribulations. Indeed, it was a world out of which he himself emerged. Yet at the same time there is an uncanny elegance to Olmi's visual style. His films don't exhibit the grainy images and shaky, murky camerawork one might associate with neorealism. Instead, his movies are precisely framed, with complex tracking shots that walk the viewer through the landscape the characters inhabit. Not only that, but Olmi developed an unusual editing style in which he juggled the present, the past, and even the future with almost mystical supremacy, making him the peer of Alain Resnais. Released, as is Criterion's wont, simultaneously with another Olmi film, Il Posto, I Fidanzati tells the deceptively simple story of the two finacès of the title, a man, Giovanni (Carlo Cabrini), and a woman, Liliana (Anna Canzi), who have been engaged for some time. Financial strains prevent them from immediately marrying and, in the restricted society in which they dwell, they meet at local dance halls to be together and have the freedom of an ersatz intimacy and physical closeness. However, their meeting at the start of the film is filled with tension because, thanks to the economic strain, he has taken a job in Sicily that will separate them for many months. Though he is taking the job in order to advance their marriage date, both worry that this will be the end of their romance. Yet, in the film's ultimately optimistic universe, their relationship is only strengthened. Those who have the preconception that neorealist films are drab need only view the lush, ecstatic, musically compelling last few minutes of I Fidanzati. It's a beautiful, enchanting film. Criterion performs its characteristic DVD magic, issuing a quietly impeccable anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) on this single-sided, single-layered disc. The transfer is derived, as the booklet says, from a "35mm fine-grain master positive on a C-Reality telecine with Oliver electronic wetgate." The image also was digitally cleaned up. The soundtrack ("mastered at 24-bit from the 35mm optical negative") was also digitally enhanced (Criterion suggests that the viewers with 5.1 systems "switch their surround system to two-channel playback for a wider dispersal of the mono sound"). English subtitles are optional. There is no audio commentary track, but a short video interview called "Mysteries of Life: Creating I Fidanzati" (19 min.), in which Olmi gives the background of the film, details about his working method, and his career since the early '60s (we also learn that, 40 years on, Olmi is still incensed at Communist-affiliated critics who charged that he knew little about the working class). The disc also features the theatrical trailer (3 min.), which in its way serves as a "restoration comparison." The package also comes with an eight-page foldout booklet with photos, cast and crew credits, transfer information, chapter titles, and an introductory essay by Film Comment Editor-at-Large Kent Jones. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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