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TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS, THE (Albero degli zoccoli, L’) (director/writer: Ermanno Olmi; cinematographer: Ermanno Olmi; editor: Ermanno Olmi; music: Johann Sebastian Bach/Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; cast: Luigi Ornaghi (Batist√¨), Francesca Moriggi (Batistina), Omar Brignoli (Minec), Antonio Ferrari (Tuni), Teresa Brescianini (Widow Runk); Runtime: 177; MPAA Rating: NR; Koch Lorber; 1978-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)
“Keeps its Marxist message under wraps, and manages never to be either lackluster or thrilling.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Tree of Wooden Clogs won the 1978 Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Ermanno Olmi (“Genesis: The Creation and The Flood”/”Keep Walking”/”The Sound of Trumpets”), director, writer, editor and photographer, soberly keeps this spiritual and political work as a no-nonsense study of peasant life in turn-of-the-century Italy (set in a Lombardy farming collective). It’s the film he’s best known for. It was shot in 16mm and has a nonprofessional cast, and was influenced by Robert Flaherty’s documentaries on ethnological themes.

The gist of the plot, acted out in vignettes, depicts the woes of four peasant farmer families living on land owned by the same absentee landlord. The farmers are exploited, as they must hand over a certain percentage of their work to the landowner and he in return lets the four families live and work on his land. In its three-hour length a number of small incidents take place during a year and are revealed as being of almost equal importance: a grandfather comes up with a new way of cultivating tomatoes; a bright child is ordered by the church sent to school and has to walk six-miles to get there and when he wears down his shoes, dad, at a high risk, chops down a tree in the landowner’s grove to make a new pair of shoes; a young couple’s wedding and their honeymoon boat trip to Milan, and the care of a sick cow through prayers.

The plot is not as important as observing how the peasants bond together and make due with their life struggles. It’s a sensitive telling of the peasants’ plight and keeps its Marxist message under wraps, and manages never to be either lackluster or thrilling.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”