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The Tree of Wooden Clogs

Directed by Ermanno Olmi

Italy, 1978

HOME, 12 July 2017

The Tree of Wooden Clogs

Watching Chekhov, that is what it seems you are doing as you view this film.

He is talented and bright, young Minec, a peasant’s son. So he goes to school , the first in his family to do so, walking five miles there and five miles back. Accident and a father acting out of the best of intentions leads to tragedy.

That is one story and there are several others, each in its way showing the peasants’ piety and purpose, their solidarity and sometime stupidity. We see political protests and skirmishes with the police and army – you think of Visconti’s The Leopard, to which Olmi’s film is a kind of counterpoint – and technological advances (a landowner plays a phonograph, Minec describes using a microscope at school to see bacteria) but this is background noise almost. Our blessed people live apart from this, helping each other as and when they can, their models are Christ and the Madonna and the saints.

On the road, bound for a place of sanctuary, a Bethlehem, the final scene has an inevitability about it. You could say it alludes to the Bible but actually every thing in the film – for example, a mother giving birth – has a sacred timeless quality about. It is a world that children would understand. Christ is incognito but always present, as in Babette’s Feast. This is a great, great film.