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The Tree Of Wooden Clogs
cast: Luigi Ornaghi, Francesca Moriggi, Omar Brignoli, and Antonio Ferrari

director: Ermanno Olmi

176 minutes (12) 1978
widescreen ratio 16:9
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail
[released 5 November]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Ermanno Olmi made his name with small-scale films such as 1961's Il Posto, about the life of a postal clerk. The Tree Of Wooden Clogs (aka: L'Albero degli zoccoli) is his best-known film; it won the Palme d'Or at the 1978 Cannes film festival. Olmi films have been infrequent since: the most recent to be distributed in the UK was 1988's impressive The Legend Of The Holy Drinker. He has only made two since then, The Profession Of Arms having a mixed reception at Cannes in 2001.

Olmi follows in the neo-realist tradition of realistic settings and un-showy camerawork, with non-professional actors. (Holy Drinker, which starred Rutger Hauer, is an exception.) The Tree Of Wooden Clogs, shot in 16mm and originally made for Italian television with a cast of local villagers, is a three-hour study of a year in the life of a Lombardy peasant community at the turn of the 20th century.

Olmi, a practising Catholic, sees a spiritual dimension to all this, often 'ennobling' the onscreen events by the use of Bach on the soundtrack. There's no plot as such and the village itself is the central character rather than anyone in it. There's a lot of incident and plenty to admire, but the film's length and steady pacing means that many will find this heavy going. Squeamish viewers should beware a goose being beheaded and a pig being killed and gutted, but these scenes are as much a part of village life as anything else.

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