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Domenico and Antonietta are two suburban Italian youths who meet while seeking "a job for life" from a big city corporation. After a bizarre screening process made up of written exams, physical agility exercises, and interview questions such as "Do you drink to forget your troubles?" (Domenico and Antonietta are no older than 17 or 18), they land jobs in the "Technical Division" and "Typing Services" respectively. From there, Domenico works as an underutilized errand boy until a clerk position is vacated by the death of an older employee. Domenico finally takes his place in a room of 12 other clerks with a manager overseeing them from a desk at the head of the room. The film ends as Domenico ponders his fate, from behind his tiny desk at the back of the small windowless room, listening to the sound of the mimeograph machine as it runs off carbon copies next to the manager's desk. Written by
Alex M. Dunne <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Timid youthful hope, followed by a lifetime of quiet desperation
This is a shimmeringly beautiful, subtle and very powerful movie about all-too-ordinary people aspiring for "a job for life", and falling into an existence which will kill off any inkling of vitality, individuality and creativity in them, day in, day out. Olmi isn't a filmmaker I often see discussed on this website's boards, not even in a context about Italian filmmakers. Along with Mauro Bolognini, another wonderful but seldom-mentioned fellow countryman of Olmi's, he is occasionally mentioned for The Tree of Wooden Clogs, but not much else. I'll confess I'm not overly familiar with Olmi's oeuvre myself - however, since watching his 1961 gem Il Posto about a month ago, I have barely been able to contain myself and have tirelessly recommended it right, left and centre.
The dehumanising effect of the large corporation, with its ant-like clerks and bureaucrats becoming tiny clog in a faceless machine, is a universal and timeless theme, starting probably with Fritz Lang's Metropolis all the way down to Naomi Klein's No Logo. I never cared for Terry Gillam's Brazil, nor did I consider Sam Lowry an adequate embodiment of the "insignificant" clerk. There was something over-styled about him, something which made him ultimately hip and cool, and something gratingly farcical and rhetorical about Brazil and all its characters generally. On the other hand, Il Posto and its protagonist, the ultimate sympathetic wet rag of a clerk, is achingly real, yet at the same time a sublimely beautiful artistic creation that could probably not have been summarised as successfully by a less accomplished filmmaker. The measured, yet powerful visual satire in Il Posto is probably what I'd wished to see in Gillam's movie, and didn't.
The New Year's Eve office party scene is pure genius and should be studied in film school as a cinematic sequence close to technical, thematical, aesthetic and atmospheric perfection. It conveys so much at once: humour, pathos, social satire and extreme loneliness, besides being beautiful to behold and incredibly original cinematography-wise. It is at once highly artistic and entertaining, accessible. Quiet desperation: there's no better way to describe these characters' condition. Though Olmi doesn't spare us their selfishness and pettiness, he never fails to depict them with humanity and respect, thus showing his eye is a disillusioned, but not misanthropic or cynical one.
One of the final scenes in the movie, in which a gaggle of clerks fight for the privilege of sitting at a recently defunct colleague's front desk, is one of the most depressing sights I've set eyes on. And yet, you can't help but feel deeply sorry for these hyenas in cheap suits and neon-pale faces, rather than feel angry or scornful against them. You just want to scream to Domenico to "Get out while you can!!!" The poor, gormless, meek, dork-boy, bumbling through his first taste of a mediocre adulthood, a boy you fear might probably never grow enough of an awareness or backbone to react against such a dehumanising system. Antonietta, also know as Magali, the pretty girl he meets during the company's selection process of the applicants and fast develops an attraction for, seems to have more individuality, more resources to survive the dehumanisation process. But then, you think for a moment about the fact that from a very early age, Domenico had been designated as the one who'd drop out of school early so that he could go out and contribute to the family's meagre income. Meanwhile, his younger brother had been chosen between the two to continue studying, perhaps even get a high school diploma or degree, thus fulfilling himself and improving his lot. One would assume that from childhood, the milder Domenico had been treated as the "dim" one, the one who'd rightfully sacrifice himself to allow his more promising brother to emerge out of their family's working-class, suburban obscurity. The scary part is that this isn't simply a dramatic plot device to increase the pathos - it's so plausible and depressingly true to life for its time and context!
I was also deeply moved and touched by the fleeting appearance of the character of the older, married man who miserably fails the first written test (the one that the corporation's applicants take in an empty, grand old palace, so at odds with the suburban squallor and Northern Italian, typical 1960s industrial modernity). He embodies, epitomises and belongs to pre-economic miracle Italy, back when illiteracy and a rural existence was the norm. Probably either almost illiterate, or unable to apply even the most basic principles of arithmetic, he's a throwback to another era, which had ended roughly around the 1950s. He desperately tries to fit into the city, the burgeoning industrial North, the new Italy, but miserably fails before even getting anywhere. How will he and all those like him survive in this dehumanising shift into a brand new, industrial era? It's heart-breaking. Though Il Posto is also so much about Italy and its staggeringly fast move throughout the 50s and 60s from backward rural country to world industrial power, it remains first and foremost a universal, timeless movie. Very highly recommended.
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