Feb. 12, 2011

Il Posto (1961)
Grade: 73/100

Director: Ermanno Olmi
Stars: Sandro Panseri, Loredana Detto, Mara Revel

What it's about. A low budget Italian character study. Domenico (Sandro Panseri) is a shy young man living with his parents and younger brother. To help support the family, Domenico quits school and applies for a modest clerical job with a large corporation known to employ for life.

To get the position, he must pass a series of curious screenings, which include a math test, a psychological evaluation, etc. He is one of a dozen-plus pool of applicants, most of whom are older. The important exception is Antonietta (Loredana Detto), a beautiful and engaging young woman.

Domenico and Antonietta promptly form a romantic friendship, which becomes promising once both are hired. Alas, they work in different buildings with different assigned lunch hours. A chance meeting gives Domenico hope he will see her at a company-sponsored dance, but Antonietta never shows up. However, he makes new friends, including matronly Mara Revel.

Domenico is glad to be employed, and he patiently endures remarkable tedium at his job. At first, he is a messenger, and is given a cynical, indolent mentor. Later, a desk job opens, and although this is a promotion, we realize that poor Domenico will likely spend a majority of his waking hours for the next four decades at a desk in the same room, waiting for five o'clock to arrive.

How others will see it. Il Posto was an immediate critical favorite. At the 1961 Venice Film Festival, it won the Italian Film Critics Award. It did little box office business in America, but has gradually acquired a following. The imdb.com user ratings are extremely high at 8.2/10, although they drop slightly with advancing age, and a slight gender gap exists, perhaps because the character of Antonietta is underdeveloped.

How I felt about it. Director Ermanno Olmi follows in the trail of neo-realist predecessors such as Vittorio De Sica. The characters and story are simple and completely credible. Boy meets girl, but although their friendship is charming, it reaches a dead end after the first day. Boy gets job, but achieves only career mediocrity.

While the viewer feels sorry for Domenico's disappointments, he takes these disappoints in stride. His expectations are low. At least his parents are satisfied with his steady paycheck, and slight hope lingers that Domenico will later re-connect with Antonietta.

Ermanno Olmi's early film career consisted of documentary shorts. Il Posto was his first feature, and it benefits from his prior background. Nearly everything seems natural, except that an hour is too long to grant for solving a simple algebra question, the clerks are perhaps too petty, the messengers appear too smug, and we are amazed that Antonietta remains unattached. After all, director Olmi wasted no time marrying the actress. She never made another film.

However, Olmi continues to direct to this day. Il Posto is his best-known effort, along with its follow-up, The Fiances (1963), and The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978).