Ermanno Olmi’s Il Posto (1961) is a slice-of-life film that’s as endearing as it is slight. Filmed in black-and-white and on a low budget, it harks back to Italian neo-realism while simultaneously seeming like a cousin of the then-contemporaneous French New Wave. It mixes the social concerns, non-professional actors and modest style of the former with the on-location intimacy of the latter.
Olmi isn’t much known in the States — of his many films, only The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) and The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1988) have received significant releases here — but he has the reputation of being one of the great humanist directors. And judging from Il Posto, it’s a well-deserved one.
The film tells the story of a young man who comes from the provinces to the big city, in this case Milan, to seek his first job. It’s structured like a three-act play, the first being the interview, the second the actual (and predictably boring) job, and the third the company Christmas party, which is then followed by a brief coda taking us back to the tedium of work. Though it’s not quite a flat-out comedy, its tone is one of amused compassion. Some of the office workers may seem ridiculous, but they’re also trapped in this little world and anyone who’s ever had a job that was less than ideal can empathize.
Aside from its gentle satire, the film takes on a bittersweet quality when our wide-eyed and naive hero, Domenico Cantoni (Sandro Panseri) develops a crush on Antoniette (Loredano Detto), a young girl he meets at the interview sessions. He’s a shy suitor at best and just when he seems to be making some headway, he discovers that they’ll be working in different buildings of the company, each having different lunch hours, which makes meeting “accidentally” a tricky business. But you’re rooting for him and it’s a bit of a disappointment when this particular thread of the story becomes truncated by the film’s abrupt ending, which possibly reflects its low budget as much as Olmi’s intentions.
Still, a small gem is a gem, even with its little imperfections.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.