Eat This Film #3 - The Tree of Wooden Clogs

by robbiefreeling
August 10, 2010 4:08 AM
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The next screening in the summer series "Eat This Film!," presented by Reverse Shot and New York food magazine Edible Manhattan, takes place this Wednesday, August 11, at 92YTribeca. For this installment of "Eat This Film!," which looks at our relationship to food via the moving image with a unique selection of timely and timeless international features and documentaries, we present Ermanno Olmi's stunning 1978 Palme d'or winner The Tree of Wooden Clogs, with an introduction by celebrated chef Marco Canora (Hearth, Terroir). The show begins at 7 p.m. Click here for ticket info.

And read Kristi Mitsuda's essay on The Tree of Wooden Clogs, "This Land Is Our Land".

Director Ermanno Olmi opens his sublime epic The Tree of Wooden Clogs with a series of still shots of farmland—creeks, cornfields, and crops—set to the foregrounded sounds of birdsong and rushing water; in the distance there are murmurs of church hymns. Another early montage scored to church organs captures the peasant workers of a farmstead in the Italian countryside—which introductory titles inform us is set in the 19th century and belongs to a landlord whose property they work in exchange for part of the harvest—plowing the earth, sowing seeds, harvesting corn, and slaughtering a waterfowl, as the children laughingly flit around the fields and submerge themselves in hay. Following this, the families convene in a barn and sing a song together while shucking corn before turning in for the night, crossing themselves and then crawling into bed. The film has only begun, but already Olmi has established its twin themes of land and religion.

Unlike Olmi’s more straightforwardly realist depiction of the hopeful beginnings of a clerical worker en route to a humdrum existence in his heartachingly lovely breakthrough Il Posto, Wooden Clogs—which won the Palme d’or at Cannes in 1978—contains moments like this of almost idyllic allure. The lives of peasant farmers aren’t characterized in clichéd salt-of-the-earth fashion, largely because Olmi so deliberately and elegantly balances them against descriptions of the basic realities and struggles the families face. Unfolding in mostly medium and long shots to convey their collective lot, under a seemingly perpetual morning mist, the film charts the daily negotiations and sacrifices the families make to stay afloat, as each choice or small shift in fortune possibly leads to financial ruin. No dramatic plot structures the narrative; the movie instead rises and falls according to the rhythms in the lives of its characters over the course of an approximate year. Read the rest.

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