Thursday, 14 April 2016

I've Just Seen: The Tree of Wooden Clogs (L'Albero degli zoccoli) (1978)

The Tree of Wooden Clogs (L'Albero degli zoccoli) (1978)

Director: Ermanno Olmi

Slow cinema is not for everyone. For those of us who enjoy these films lack of narrative convention, and its replacement with an emphasis on atmosphere, image and emotion, we are also aware of the alienating quality they can have. After watching Olmi's portrait of peasant life in 19th century Italy, I could think of no one amongst my immediate acquaintance who I would recommend watching it; this is despite the fact that I found the film beautiful and quietly engaging.

My use of the word portrait to describe the film is deliberate; watching the life and movements of this community felt like seeing paintings come to life. As in art and literature, the life and experiences of the poor are far fewer than depictions of the wealthy. This for me was part of the charm of this film; observing people rarely documented on screen.

There is little by way of a narrative thread, though the title refers to a particular incident that has repurcussions at the film's end. Instead we get glimpses of the life of this rural community. They are at times humorous, sad, touching, and confronting (animal slaughter that was not simulated). Other than the clothes and some of the farming technology, we could be any century from the medieval period onwards. Only when a young couple honeymoons in the 'big city' does modernity, with its politics, noise and movement, appear. Even then, the couple do not engage with it.

If you find yourself watching this, don't look for a narrative. See it as an opportunity to experience a world that, if you lived in another era, would probably have been your reality; though it would not have had the luxury of being filmed with as much beauty as Olmi.

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