Il Posto: The Criterion Collection
Italian Neo-Realist Ermanno Olmi isn't the first name to pop up when the average viewer thinks of postwar Italian cinema. De Sica, Antonioni and Fellini are the names we hear. And yet Olmi was a highly influential and, in his own quiet way, highly infuriating director among the New Wave cinema of the '60s and into the '70s. An auteur whose attention to the small details of everyday life created quiet character studies of tedium, irony, hilarity, and sadness, he had a marked quality of making the hum-drum almost fantastical. Reality depends on how you look at it, and his aggressively common depictions also contained an element of Kafkaesque torture. Again and again, in films like, Tempo si E Fermato (1959), Il Posto (1961) and I Fidanzati (1963), he displays those little heartbreaks that lead people to inspiration or desperation with a beguiling combination of warmth and melancholia. Such is markedly apparent in Il Posto, a film that observed a job ("Il Posto" means "The Job") through the eyes of a teenager just entering the work-force. Saucer-eyed and languid Domenico (non-professional actor Sandro Panseri) endures a series of tests to land a position within a company in an Italian city. The tests include fractions, but also physical dexterity, like how well one can deep-knee bend. He also must answer personal questions, like "Does the future seem hopeless to you?" Domenico is too young to know, but the other figures around him would answer a disheartening yes. In Olmi's world, sitting at a desk all day is no life to live. Domenico gets the job, but he's not excited by the work instead he's hopeful that he'll see pretty Magali (Loredana Detto), the girl he shyly spent the day with, playing grown-up while drinking an espresso together. The next day (there's an extraordinarily visceral scene where Domenico, at dawn, walks to the train with his father new hopes, but with dad at his side, a reminder that the grind has begun) he's happy to see Magali got the job as well, only she's in a different department. Revealing how alienating and open-ended a workplace can be (this place is sprawled out like the Microsoft campus, a veritable city of work), Domenico is assigned to a separate building as an apprentice messenger. Company policy enforces different lunch breaks and time-outs, so Domenico almost never gets a chance to even talk to his prospect. She appears once in the hallway, and they chat briefly, but her supervisor gives her the evil eye. And on a rain-soaked day, Domenico sees her leaving, laughing and happy with a group of kids they've got umbrellas, but Domenico must share one with an old lady at the work cafeteria. On New Year's Eve, Domenico goes out alone, hoping once again he'll meet up with Magali. But he instead shares a table with an older couple, and as the evening opens up he lets himself go in a dance. The fact that he's momentarily happy, widening his usual placid face with toothy grins and jumping in a circle with other party-goers, makes the sequence all the more heartbreaking. The new year brings a new position, as well as a potentially endless life of staring at a co-worker's head in front of him.
* * *
Olmi's genius in Il Posto is in his beautifully composed, lingering shots. Whether in a medium, hand-held, or close-up, Olmi studies a face or a scene long enough for us to see its platitudes with subtle power. Domenico's face is a landscape of emotion, though heavily suppressed in small smiles, dejected eyes, and embarrassed blushes, we virtually watch him grow before our eyes. Some critics couldn't stomach Olmi's passive Domenico, but there's nothing pathetic about him, he's just a shy, confused person right at the start of life. There's a lot of De Sica in Olmi (whom Olmi acknowledged as an influence) but we also see what came after. As stated in Kent Jones's essay included with this DVD, Martin Scorsese borrowed shots from Il Posto for Raging Bull, and there are similar echoes in Clockwatchers (director Jill Sprecher credits Olmi as an influence on that film), Office Space, and Time Out. It's startling to notice that, before computer cubicles, desk jobs were just as dismal 40 years ago as they are today. Criterion presents Il Posto in a pristine full-frame transfer (1.33:1) showcasing Olmi's beautiful black-and-white cinematography of long hallways, facial close-ups, and rain-soaked streets. The monaural Italian audio is nicely restored on a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, and new English subtitles are on board. Supplements include "Reflecting Reality," an involving interview with the incredibly youthful looking Olmi and film critic/historian and occasional Olmi collaborator Tullio Kezich. There's also a "rare deleted scene" that was trimmed for length (it shows what happens after Domenico spies Magali on the rainy day). Also here are a jazzy trailer, a restoration demonstration, and another film, "La Cotta" ("The Crush"), a short Olmi made in 1967. Watching a boy's crush unfold in painful detail is incredibly precious (too much for some tastes) with its lead actor looking like a young Max Fisher crossed with Peter Sellers. The music is fantastic (it's hard to get the theme tune out of your head). With respectable Criterion editions of Il Posto and I Fidanzati, one can only hoping more of Olmi's work is restored and released. Keep-case.