Do your memories carry a soundtrack?
Ermanno Olmi in a genuine masterpiece believes they sure do. And why not? We all tend to associate old songs to places and people we used to know and this way create more vivid and richer “mini-episodes” in our mind. Olmi skillfully uses a lively tune of a dance hall where the two protagonists had met as a sleek time machine to whisk viewers back and forth between present, past and even imagined future.
The story takes place during the Economic Boom (Boom Economico) of the early 60’s in Italy, a period characterized by a transition from agricultural to industrial society. In this sense, Olmi continues with his displacement theme from Il Posto he did just two years earlier. If Il Posto tells the story of a young guy commuting from the province to the big city, in this film the transition is far more radical. It’s the experience of uprooting a factory worker from Milan all the way down to the industrial plants in Sicily, showcasing technological innovation planted in otherwise underdeveloped south, and the straining impact it brings on the relationship with his fiancé.
What does this picture tell you?
Yep, it’s pretty obvious to see the clear tension these two people have. On one hand Giovanni (Carlo Cabrini) sees the relocation as a great career opportunity, whereas Liliana (Anna Canzi) fears it will end their relationship. Back then most people were born, lived and died in the same place. The notion of finding work elsewhere was regarded as practically leaving all your life behind.
Ermanno’s signature style of minimal dialogs and maximum body language to convey a wide range of emotions is also prevalent here. My favorite is the opening sequence showing people entering the dance hall, checking out the crop of who showed up, finding their seats, the musicians getting ready on their post, the janitor surfacing the floor with white powder, the music begins, early dances breaking, and then the appearance of the two protagonists – solid first six minutes where words would have cluttered the clarity of depicting the place, the people and time. Simply exquisite!