On Friday, Oct. 26 and Sunday, Oct. 28, from 7:30 p.m. to 10:45 p.m., Harpur Cinema presented “The Tree of Wooden Clogs,” the Italian director Ermanno Olmi’s masterpiece. Olmi was known for his neorealist films that centered around class consciousness and depicted humble lives, yet this one was deemed his magnum opus, winning several accolades for its authenticity and sheer scale. The film by the late director, who died this past May, was shown in Lecture Hall 6 and was introduced by Kenneth White, an assistant professor in the cinema department.
The film, which premiered in 1978, and is three hours and six minutes in length, reveals an intimate portrait of the hardscrabble lives of Italian peasants in the northern region of Lombardy in the late 19th century. While released in the 1970s, the film has definite undercurrents of the neorealism of the post-World War II period.
Chantal Rodais, a lecturer in the cinema department, said the film was chosen to spotlight Italian cinema of the 1970s and pay tribute to the recently deceased director.
“I wanted to bring ‘The Tree of Wooden Clogs’ to campus for viewers to discover or rediscover this masterpiece of world cinema, a striking example of the extremely rich Italian cinema of the 1970s,” Rodais said. “And when Ermanno Olmi passed away earlier this year in May, it became the opportunity to pay tribute to this important director and artist.”
The film is shot in 16 millimeter, a film gauge employed in nontheatrical filmmaking that imparts an element of greater authenticity by giving a grainier, less edited and almost painting-like quality to the image. It portrays peasant life with striking realism and rawness, inciting the audience to experience many of the same raw emotions.
The film is almost entirely spoken in the Bergamasque dialect, and uses nonprofessional actors rather than stage actors to further give it a sense of genuineness. Depicting four peasant families engaging in ordinary activities such as working the mill, reciting prayers, telling stories by the fire and delivering babies, Olmi takes the audience on a journey of the joys and sorrows that mold the families.
As is customary with Harpur Cinema screenings, the film was preceded by a student film. “The Fix,” a short film by Mia Leopold, ‘18, was selected to be shown. The film, which exhibited an old teddy bear being stitched up, could be said to have tied in thematically with the main film in its depiction of a subject in disrepair and in need of attention.
“The Tree of Wooden Clogs” is in line with the theme of communities selected this semester by Harpur Cinema in its depiction of the insular community of peasants and their collective experiences of labor, love and loss that bind them together throughout the film.
White ended by speaking of the achievement of the film in vividly capturing the theme of class consciousness, or the class struggle from the Marxist era, in a way that few other films have.
“Olmi has given us a work that not only encapsulates cinema at its grandest possibility, but also something more that is lasting beyond all of these temporal and chronological and political shifts, that is, class consciousness,” White said.
Rodais also echoed this achievement, noting the artistic and emotive qualities of the film.
“It is an extremely beautiful film, with images that remain in one’s mind for their beauty but also for the profound emotion they provoke.”