Il Posto Review
Il Posto was Ermanno Olmi’s second feature and remains one of his best-loved films. It won the Critics Prize at the 1961 Venice Film Festival and the Sutherland Trophy at the same year’s British Film Institute Awards, this particular prize honouring the most outstanding feature to have screened at the National Film Theatre in the past twelve months. Subsequently it has earned itself a place on the BFI 360 Film Classics list (alongside Olmi’s later Tree of Wooden Clogs) and an inclusion amongst the Criterion Collection. Yet Il Posto, for all this acclaim, is a quiet and unassuming film, one that gets by on a slender narrative and substantial charm. It centres on young Domenici, a recent school-leaver in search of employment. Much of the first half is occupied by one particular interview, it’s various stages and the young girl he meets whilst going through the process.
Despite the title, which translates as The Job, Olmi doesn’t have the nature of employment in his sights, satirical or otherwise. Rather it is the girl who plays a more significant role, lending Il Posto a light romantic air unconcerned with point making or political motivations. Indeed, the youthful charm which leads Sandro Panseri and Loredana Detto bring to proceedings is forceful enough to have an impact elsewhere. As such the somewhat laborious interview process, with its various tests and interrogations, is infected inasmuch as the whole things comes across a lightly humorous. Olmi is open to the absurdity of it all - the inherent absurdities of everyday life in fact. In this respect his film feels only slightly removed from the early films of Jiri Menzel and Milos Forman which would go into production later in the decade: Closely Observed Trains, A Blonde in Love, The Fireman’s Ball. Panseri even looks a little like Vaclav Neckar, the lead in Closely Observed Trains. Both share a sort of eternal innocence and Keaton-esque inexpressiveness offset by a magnificent pair of eyes. Olmi goes one stage further, however, and places Panseri in an oversized coat, thus emphasising his status as a small boy trying to find himself in a big man’s world.
Another affinity is with the early black and white films of Eric Rohmer (the first three instalments in his series of Moral Tales, Le Signe du Leo) and Claude Chabrol (Les Cousins, Les Bonnes femmes). These were examples of the French New Wave unburdened with cinematic references and playfulness, but rather taking a natural approach to filming and performance. Their use of Paris is not too dissimilar to the manner in which Milan comes across in Il Posto: location shooting in an off-the-cuff style that nevertheless refuses to draw attention to itself. It’s realism, but arguably not the neo-realism with which we associate Italian cinema. Again it demonstrates Olmi’s refusal to make a political work; instead it is simply a means of making the drama as natural as possible, one which is ably matched by the performances of unknowns Panseri and Detto. And just as those early Rohmers and Chabrols dance along in their own uncomplicated rhythms, so too Il Posto is quiet and understated. This may suggest that Olmi’s film is therefore an insignificant one, too minor to deserve the praise and attention it has received over the years, yet at the same time it also explains why it is ultimately so winning: a little tale with bags of charm that it’s impossible not to be affected by. Sometimes classics come in small packages.
This is the third review of Mr Bongo’s recent trio of early sixties Italian releases - following The Grim Reaper and Mamma Roma - and the package is much the same. However, Il Posto arguably gets the weakest transfer, although the elements from which it has been sourced are in perfectly good condition. The print itself is free of damage, crisp and clean; the original Academy ratio is maintained; the English subtitles are optional; the soundtrack demonstrates barely a flaw. Yet whilst all of these factors are present and correct, we also get an interlaced transfer, inky blacks that contain little detail, some moderate edge enhancement and persistent moiré that results in a slightly green-ish tint. It’s certainly not the worst of Mr Bongo’s transfers to date, but then it’s also easily the lesser of these three Italian releases. Ultimately watchable, perhaps, though of course the film deserves better. As for extras, these are non-existent.