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:: Tree Of Wooden Clogs

Italian filmmaker Ermanno Olmi won the Palme D'Or at the 1978 Cannes International Film Festival for this lengthy, detailed and quietly profound portrayal of daily life among a group of Lombardy peasants at the turn of the last century.

Best known to non-Italian audiences for 1988's The Legend Of The Holy Drinker, Ermanno Olmi carved a niche as a filmmaker dedicated to chronicling the lives of Italy's working class. Here, as with many of his films, a non-professional cast interprets his ideas, and the result is a beautifully shot, unsentimental depiction of rural life. Olmi directed, scripted, photographed, and edited the film. shows the daily existence for the period of about one year.

Four families of Catholic peasants share a farmstead in northern Italy; their lives dominated by the struggle to feed and clothe themselves. Engaged in a bitter battle with the elements, there's no respite for them from work, and precious little reward. In a series of documentary-style vignettes, Olmi focuses on the incidents that make up a year in this life. There's no narrative drive to speak of, no dominant personality, and dialogue is sparse. But Olmi teases something remarkable out of these disparate elements, conferring on his characters a quiet dignity.

Few of the cast would go on to pursue acting careers but their performances are astonishingly natural, and the best moments are the most intimate. Though Olmi, himself a Catholic and a Marxist, is clearly angry at the injustice of the feudal system the peasants toil under, he's not averse to a spot of low-key irony. While a high-minded call for social reform is being delivered in the town square, an impoverished farmer scrabbles around in the dirt for a gold coin.

At three hours long this is a committed and earnest piece of filmmaking, but Olmi's humanitys make for a valuable reflection on a vanished way of life.