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Il Posto

Il Posto
Criterion 194
1961 / b&w / 1:37 flat full frame / 90 min. / The Job, The Sound of Trumpets / Street Date June 24, 2003 / 29.95
Starring Loredana Detto, Tullio Kezich, Sandro Panseri, Mara Revel
Cinematography Roberto Barbieri, Lamberto Caimi
Production Designer Ettore Lombardi
Film Editor Carla Colombo
Original Music Pier Emilio Bassi
Written by Ettore Lombardo and Ermanno Olmi
Produced by Alberto Soffientini
Directed by Ermanno Olmi

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 precocious 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 abilities.

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:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: interview docu, restoration demo, short subject La Cotta
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 23, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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