Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Criterion often goes in unexpected directions, and this time they've brought out two early films by
the revered Ermanno Olmi. The first is Il Posto, a really sweet little movie that's equal
parts drama and ethnographic history. We follow a shy young man's progress in his first job, and
share the one bright hope in his life when he meets his dream girl. Shot in unembellished black &
white and relentlessly literal, Olmi's film sticks so closely to mundane reality, one would think
it was Olmi's personal memoir.
Quiet and unprepossessing, Domenico Cantoni (Sandro Panseri) goes through the
labyrinthine hiring process at an unspecified large company. He's so shy and transparently confused,
it's a wonder he can find his way to the right building. Domenico's parents are nervous, as being
hired in this company might represent a lifetime's secure employment. Domenico endures the tests
and questions as if under arrest, but then meets Antonietta Masetti (Loredana Detto), a beauty with
a cute smile who appears to think him cute, as well. They hit it off so well, they almost forget to
return to work on time. Both are hired, but Domenico has to serve as a messenger while waiting for
a clerk's position to open up, and he's in a building far away from Antonietta. But they meet
briefly in a hallway, and she promises to try to go to the company New Year's party ...
Poor Domenico is supposed to be one of the lucky ones, winning a slot, a position, a spot (all better
translations of the title) at the kind of company that can keep one employed for life. What we see
is mostly depressing. The white collar applicants range from quietly obnoxious to quietly introverted,
and the silly tests they're put through are humiliating exercises that seem mostly to determine
that they can hear and follow instructions. Domenico is assigned a temp position by an executive
who doesn't even look at him. He spends his time as a messenger doing mostly nothing.
We see a pool of clerks, the group where Domenico is supposed to fit in, and where he might be
spending the rest of his life. It's just eight or nine desks crammed into a tiny space, and the
employees have all devolved into habitual behaviors or scams - one enterprising
crook has a petty racket filching light bulbs. An older lady (Mara Revel) always seems on the verge
of tears, a fussy man wastes time carefully cutting up cigarettes, etc. It looks like the most
depressing place on earth, and Domenico is supposed to be grateful to have landed there.
About as sweet as guy can get, Domenico carefully thinks over the simplest questions before answering,
even though he's quite intelligent. He carries this lost-puppy look with him everywhere (see disc
cover), repeatedly getting sympathetic reactions from every woman he meets, including the secretary
of the big boss. But being anywhere near Antonietta brings him to life - we can tell she's what
he thinks about day and night. Their scenes together are about as fresh as 'young-love' moments can
get, even though all we see them do is holding hands, and barely that. As his job and his nerve
conspire to keep them separated, we watch Domenico putting all his hopes toward seeing her at the
big company dance, which turns out to be an elaborate sequence of pitiful awkwardness.
This is a definite 'slice of life' story that's as concerned with Milan, Italy at a certain point in
history, as it is with the leading drama. We want Domenico to get to spend more time with his
dream girl, but the film is consistently authentic when dealing with the mundane problems of
ordinary people. Domenico is more likely to share an umbrella with a sympathetic older lady, than
connect with Antonietta in the rain. At the big party, he's invited over by a couple who really want the
bottle of champagne he's carrying.
In the middle of watching poor lovable Domenico find his way through life, we break away
for a quick roundup of the home-lives of the other clerks, who clearly represent the future in
store for him if he spends his life in the pool. It looks as if their 'lucky' jobs pay barely
enough to cover the rent. Some are lonely. The light bulb thief is writing a secret novel at a
tiny home desk. The sad older lady, always crying, has a James
Joyce moment, when she finds her sons have stolen her money right from her wallet. At the end, all
we really hope for Domenico is that he finds a way out of this so-called favored position. But we
sure have an appreciation for how people of a certain class lived in 1960s Italy.
Criterion's DVD of Il Posto is great, just the package that helps an ignorant fan like
Savant appreciate what at first might seem a remote foreign film. The beautiful transfer, as shown
in a concise and educational restoration demonstration, was greatly improved from the
damaged original negative. A deleted scene shows poor Domenico wasting his time at a rained-out
fair, in the hope that Antonietta might turn up there. An illustrated interview with Olmi and his
collaborator Tullio Kesich opens up one's appreciation for the picture in historical context.
Olmi details his background working for Italian Edison, an experience much like Domenico's, and
explains his attitude toward using non-stars in his
films. Quite happily, Olmi reveals that he married the actress who played his beautiful young heroine.
Also included is a very good shorter Olmi film (25 minutes?) called La Cotta, about a
teenage boy with a system for kissing girls. He falls hard for a new face from France, and loses
track of her on New Year's Eve. The theme is similar to the main feature, but it's also
interesting to compare Domenico's impoverished background with this young rake's situation -
his friends drive in cars, he has good clothes and money to hire taxis, etc. Olmi's casting
process must be flawless, because he again finds nonprofessional actors with naturally expressive
An original trailer and a perceptive liner essay by Kent Jones round out this pleasant package.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Il Posto rates:
Supplements: interview docu, restoration demo, short subject La Cotta
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 23, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson