Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Paradise begins with the love we show each other here on Earth.

No 108 - L'albero Degli Zoccoli (The Tree of Wooden Clogs)
Director - Ermanno Olmi

I have had this sitting in my house for the best part of a month. The reason for this being, it sounded VERY heavy. Here is LoveFilm's definition of the film. The only definition or review of it that I had:
Ermanno Olmi's THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS presents a year in the life of peasants in northern Italy near the turn of the 20th century. A little boy breaks his precious pair of clogs, which he needs for his long trek to school. Desperate for wood to make a new pair, his father sneaks into a prized grove in their small village. When he's caught, the unfeeling, wealthy landlord punishes him severely for his transgression. This small incident, and the various viewpoints of the peasants, reveal in beautiful detail rural life under oppressive rule.

and the film is 3 hours long. I strapped myself in and decided to watch it.

I want to begin by saying I didn't detest the film, there were some bits I liked. I just found the slow pace and the lack of story meant that the film could be a lot of work and I fail to see why it is held in such high esteem.
I am truly prepared to be called a philistine, to be branded an uncultured twit - you are all probably right.

I don't want this to be a negative blog. I'm not a negative person. The film is very slow, to the extent of almost standing still and very little happens. It follows the lives of peasants who have very dull peasant lives so the film is very light on 'action' or 'plot', and whilst I normally am a fan of the slow and rambling film, I found it difficult to follow for the full 3 hours. These were the elements that I found challenging but there were a lot of little elements that I enjoyed.

Firstly the film is beautiful and feels very real. The performances are incredibly believable, especially impressive considering Olmi didn't hire actors, instead using villagers from the surrounding area. It makes everyone feel a bit more real. They have that gruff weather beaten look that is impossible to fake decently. The locations are just as gruff and weather beaten, and therefore just as beautiful and real. The film effortlessly makes the events unfolding feel real. The characters are natural, the settings are genuine - it could almost be a documentary, if it wasn't set at the turn of the 19th century.

Although I have already mentioned the acting, I want to focus on the character of Batisti, who is probably the nearest thing this film has to a protagonist and who has the greatest moustache I've seen in a long time. His character is fantastic, effortlessly juggling the stresses of living in the tough times with being an excellent father, caring for his children and showing definite interest to their trials and tribulations. The scenes of his family interacting with one another are joys. Little nuggets of homely camaraderie which were the highlights of the film for me.

It is through Luigi Ornaghi's beautiful performance (he looks on the brink of tears the whole time) that Batisti became my favourite character and the story about the clogs, and the tree became the story that I was most invested with (the film's finale, and only real moment of plot, is genuinely sad).

From the masses of intricacies of everyday peasant life, only one other characters shone through enough for me to feel invested. I have to apologise because I do not know any of the character names, but the I wish to talk about is the grandfather who uses chicken manure to tend his tomatoes (like I said, slow moving film!). His relationship with his granddaughter is lovely, and it is heart warming to see their secret experiment work allowing them to sell their tomatoes before any of the other villagers. When the film is so slow that growing tomatoes becomes a plot point it is impressive that they make the audience root for the little growing tomatoes.

If you can endure the three slowly paced hours, there are some moments of serene beauty and some wonderful tableaux of rustic European life. However, I found it very difficult to follow the film (not helped by the worst and most sporadic subtitles ever) and stay attentive for the whole running time.

I probably wouldn't watch it if I was squeamish. There are some very real scenes of very real animals getting (in my opinion) very really killed on camera.

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