Pages Navigation Menu

Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

Il Posto

Director: Ermanno Olmi
Country: Italy
Year: 1961

“The sensation is that these choices of mine are not only mine but that others have them too. I really don’t feel exclusive… My ambition instead, perhaps because of my peasant-worker background, is to look at the world with others, not as an aristocratic intellectual.”
Ermanno Olmi

“The characters of Olmi’s films themselves pay great attention to gestures, and seem to rely on other people’s gestures rather than their words as a more trustworthy guide to behavior.”
Gavin Millar

Background

It was a long week this week, dear readers. For one thing, I drove eight hours in a torrential downpour to see Geoff Downes prance around in leather pants and play a key-tar solo during “Heat of the Moment.” Plus I had to balance the checking account, and there was a vanity light that needed installing in Robin’s bathroom, and our power was out for two days… I’m just saying: a shorter BACKGROUND section this week, for real this time.

Ermanno Olmi was born in the Lombardy region of Italy in 1931. As a young man, Olmi worked for ten years as a lowly clerk for the Edison-Volta company in Milan. All of this is important background information for today’s film, as you’ll see if you read my SYNOPSIS below or – even less likely – actually watch the film.

Olmi gradually worked his way up the corporate ladder and was eventually charged with establishing the company’s film making division. In this position, he produced documentaries designed to show everyone how great it was to work for Edison-Volta: Our pension plan is second-to-none! Our company-sponsored picnics are super-awesome!

At the same time that he was making corporate propaganda, he was preparing Il Posto. According to some sources, the scenes inside the nameless corporate building in Il Posto were actually filmed during off-hours at Edison-Volta.

In 1961 Il Posto was released. The title of the film translates as The Job, but it was retitled The Sound of Trumpets for its initial U.S. release. If you watch the film, see if you can figure out why.

Il Posto won awards from the British Film Institute and the Venice Film Festival, and established Olmi as one of the leading lights of the Italian neo-realist movement. At times, Olmi claimed that his films were actually reactions against the neo-realist movement (because he used non-professional actors, for one thing), but if you’re just reading this to gain a superficial knowledge that you can use to impress women at parties, just stick to calling him “a master of Italian neo-realist cinema,” and you are unlikely to be challenged, unless I am at the same party, in which case: watch your back.

Sandro Panseri, the young man who played Domenico, appeared in just two more films before switching to the more lucrative career of supermarket management. Yes, really. Loredana Detto, the young woman who played Magali, never appeared in another film (which is a shame, because she’s great), but went on to marry the director.

Ermanno Olmi is best known for Il Posto and 1978’s The Tree of Wooden Clogs. He died in… oops. Yeah, still alive, as far as I can tell.

Synopsis

Domenico is trying to sleep, but the sounds of Mama making coffee and Papa getting ready for work make that impossible in their tiny apartment. Mom and Dad whisper, thinking Domenico is still asleep.

“He’s not a child anymore,” says Mama. “He knows what to do.”

“You don’t get chances like this every day,” says Papa. “Tell him to do his best.”

While Domenico slowly rouses himself, Mama wakes his brother, Franco: “You still have some homework to do!”

As the morning light fills the room, informative text appears on the screen: “For those who live in the towns of Lombardy, Milan is the place to find a job.”

Franco and Domenico squabble over the rightful ownership of a book strap, but Mama is having none of it: “You’re not a child!” she tells Domenico. “What do you need it for? You’re going to work.” Uh-oh.

Later, when the boys are dressed, Mama ushers them both out of the house; Franco to school and Domenico to a job exam. “This is the chance of a lifetime,” she tells her eldest son while straightening the lapels of his coat. “If you get in there, you’ve got a job for life.”

So, yeah, no pressure, Schooly-D. If you fail this exam, you’ll be stuck here in this shitty apartment with your nagging mother and bratty brother, sleeping on a cot in the kitchen for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Have a great day!

“Do you have a handkerchief? Do you have enough money?” Mama shouts from the balcony, as the beleaguered brothers embark on their respective missions.

At the train station, Domenico watches the school-attending kids with jealousy. He speaks to no one, and seems to have no friends. At the imposing office building where the test is to take place, he is directed to the fourth floor. An old man searching for the welfare office receives only a disinterested shrug from the security guard.

The antiseptic hallways and fluorescent-lit spaces of the office building appear futuristic and unreal after the opening scenes in the Lombardy slum.

In the Human Resources waiting room, Domenico is only one of 20 similarly-dressed young men (and a few women), all apparently vying for the same position.

“That guy is as good as hired,” whispers one young man, nodding toward a fresh-faced candidate who couldn’t be more than 15. “He’s got connections.” “I don’t think so,” counters his friend. “The test is what really matters. If you don’t pass the test, they won’t hire you.”

Gulp.

And now it is time: “These tests are designed mainly to reveal your individual qualities,” says the HR rep ominously. The candidates are led out of the office, through the streets, into a nearby building, through several ornate chambers…

…and finally into the large room where the morning test session will take place.

The test consists of a single story problem; something about 520 meters of copper wire and a bunch of fractions, blah blah blah. I sympathize with Domenico, who spends the test period zoned out and staring at the ceiling. Of course some smarty-pants finishes the test quickly, hands it in loudly, and spends the rest of the test period grinning smugly and tapping his fingers on the desk. Jesus, I hate that guy.

The morning portion of the test is over, and it seems clear that many of the applicants failed miserably. At least D got to ogle a cute girl in the front row. Later, he awkwardly introduces himself to her in a café, and they spend their lunch break walking the streets of Milan, window shopping for things they cannot afford and talking about their families, the future, and mopeds. Domenico impresses his new friend by treating her to a drink; they are too young for Strong Irish Whiskey, so they settle for Strong Italian Coffee.

Yum! They share a teaspoon and everything, so it looks like they might be in love. Those Italians move fast, I can tell you from personal experience.

They stop to look at a gaping construction pit, and before they know it, they are almost late for the afternoon portion of the test! Helping his new friend cross a busy street, Domenico holds her hand. They cross successfully, but neither one feels like letting go, so they run through the teeming streets and across grassy hills hand-in-hand.

Back in the testing room, the applicants endure a barrage of strange physical and mental tests: raise your hands and pretend you are screwing in a light bulb; reach your arms out in front of you and squat (ladies facing the wall so the men in the lab coats can admire your backsides, please); repeat the phrase whispered by that guy across the room; answer my questions with yes or no only (Does the future seem hopeless to you? Are you repulsed by the opposite sex? Do you drink to forget your troubles? Did you wet the bed between the ages of 8 and 14?); etc. Fairly standard entry exam for the Parallax Corporation.

Testing completed, D waits outside the building for his new friend. They walk home together in the dark, talking about the test, trying unsuccessfully to purchase chewing gum, and avoiding drunks. She is confident and bright, he is shy and a bit of a mumbler. She is stylish and beautiful, but he is still in that ugly no-longer-a-teenager-but-not-yet-an-adult phase, complete with sleepy eyes, open mouth, and a fuzzy upper lip. We find out her name: Magali. Which is actually a nickname, but still – a key item has been checked off the getting-to-know-you list.

Domenico’s bus comes, but he chooses to skip it and hang around until Mowgli’s bus arrives. Somehow, this act makes real what was previously unacknowledged, and they both stammer and grin like the awkward young people they are, and it is very, very sweet.

posto_moonlight

Her bus arrives, she leaves, and Domenico is left alone at the bus stop, his future opening up before him. Eventually, he arrives at home, singing love songs too loudly for the lateness of the hour.

“Well, how did it go?” asks Papa.

If you have raised a teenage boy, or remember being one yourself, I’m sure you can guess Domenico’s sullen and monosyllabic characterization of his eventful day: “Fine.”

Mama and Domenico are picking out a new raincoat, in celebration of his impending employment. He wants the hipster raincoat that all the cool kids are wearing, with the superfluous belts and unnecessary zippers, but the only coats they can afford are utilitarian and gigantic. Domenico is dwarfed by the oversized coats. Do I have to spell it out for you people? SYMBOLISM!

Domenico receives the call back from the Parallax Corporation, and so does Magilla. Will they be working together? Were they called back to be hired or rejected? The anxiety, it is torture! Finally, Domenico’s name is called; he is to be hired in Administration, in a different building. Sounds good, until he finds out there are no suitable positions available. “There is a messenger position, if you want it,” he is informed by The Boss. “Better than staying at home and doing nothing.”

His job, as far as Domenico can figure, involves sitting silently at a desk in a cramped office, next to a guy who sorts papers and letters into neat piles, for reasons which remain obscure. After several minutes of this, the office intercom buzzes loudly. “Let it ring,” says the paper-shuffling guy. “When they get tired, they’ll stop.”

The scenes that follow are like a more Kafka-esque version of Mike Judge’s Office Space, set in 1960’s Milan. Worker drones do battle with uncooperative office equipment, ruin their eyesight squinting at reams of useless paperwork, gossip about their co-workers, flirt with the few females on the payroll, and always, ALWAYS kiss the ass of anyone higher up the food chain.

Next is a montage showing us the private lives of Domenico’s co-workers; one is writing a novel, one sings in a beer hall. There is some illicit romance. A woman with sick children is reprimanded for being late. “Trust everyone,” advises Schooly-D’s paper-shuffling mentor, “except those who have two nostrils.”

During lunch and after work, Schooly-D looks for Magilla Gorilla, but she is nowhere to be found. Gradually, our hero becomes acclimated to his new environs. He is given a uniform, is befriended by an nice old lady from Accounting, and learns how to keep his head down. When he does see Magilla Gorilla again, she is on the arm of one of those jerks from second shift. D’s heart is broken. Attempting to slip her a Christmas card via interoffice mail, he comes face-to-face with his beloved, and she invites him to a New Year’s Eve dance being thrown by the company social club. Score! But! She’s not sure if she’ll be able to make it…

At the party, Schooly-D sits alone until he is invited to join the table of a kind elderly couple.

The old folks seem to love him, but that is no way to score with the young ladies, my friend. More revelers arrive, alcohol and party favors are distributed freely, and an old guy sings a song about his family eating his car. Crazy Italians!

The energy is kicked up a notch by the youthful exuberance of the second-shifters from the main building, but Magilla still has not arrived and Schooly-D grows anxious. An aggressive young woman from the typing pool drags him out on the floor and forces him to dance.

Midnight arrives, fireworks explode, and drunken line-dancing commences, but still no Mowgli. Ah well. Schooly-D gets rip-roaring drunk and enjoys himself regardless.

I’m unclear if it is related to the drunken line-dancing, but the novel-writing clerk dies.

This is tragic, of course, but also a lucky break for Schooly-D, who inherits his job.

Carefully arranging his stapler and ink blotter on his new desk, adjusting the malfunctioning lamp, Schooly-D listens to the monotonous clanking of the mimeograph, and realizes: This is my life.

What I Liked

Loved it, loved it, loved it! Il Posto is funny, sweet, sad, completely heartfelt, and never ever pushy or pat. The story is allowed to develop at its own pace, seemingly without the intervention of the writer or director. Things happen as they would naturally happen, characters are never black and white, and none of the problems that arise are neatly resolved. At the end of the film, Domenico’s future happiness is uncertain, and there is no last-minute effort to tie up loose ends.

Speaking of Schooly-D, Sandro Panseri is excellent. Often sullen and painfully shy, he somehow manages to remain likable and compelling. Who was it that said great acting is mostly about paying careful attention and responding honestly? Probably Peter Boyle. Whoever it was, they could have been describing Sandro Panseri’s performance in Il Posto. He doesn’t say much, but he observes everything, and his subtle reactions are totally believable.

I loved the montage of the employees’ private lives, particularly the sad, bespectacled guy writing a novel in his spare time. I loved the sweet, unforced way that Domenico and Magali get to know each other, and the moment when they hold hands to cross the street. I loved the paper-shuffling guy who ignored the office intercom.

I loved the scenes at home with Domenico’s family, because I never felt that the director was trying to make a point. His parents are concerned about Domenico’s future, trying to do the right thing, sometimes kind, sometimes nagging – absolutely believable and recognizable parents.

I didn’t really think about it until I read some more background information on the film, but: Great movie for architecture-watching.

The more I think about this film, the more it seems like a nice book-end double-feature with Ikiru. Domenico could be the young Watanabe. Think about it!

What I Didn’t Like So Much

I can’t think of one thing I would change about Il Posto; it did exactly what it was designed to do, with economy, grace, warmth, and an eye for the telling detail.

Should You See It?

Yes, you should. Il Posto is one of the very few films in this series that I would recommend to almost anyone, without reservation.

Next: Pygmalion

2 Comments

  1. Weird that you suggested “Ikiru” as a double-feature because by pure chance it is the next film on my watch list after Il Posto. Looking forward to viewing it even more now.

    p.s. Il Posto was magical!

  2. (Note: After writing this review I went back and looked at my review for “Loves of a Blond” and I, basically, complain about the same thing I complained about in regards to THAT film. Though I liked this film more…for some reason. Bottom line, if it sounds like I’m repeating myself well…I am. Deal with it.)

    I recently read a screenplay where NOTHING happened. I mean, almost literally, NOTHING HAPPENED! Sure there was “nearly” a car accident. And, yes, the guy’s car got towed but he…got it back. And he ended up accomplishing his goal…pretty easily I might add and the script nearly lacked almost anything that could remotely be considered conflict. Conflict is what drives the story. Protagonist v. Antagonist. The struggle for the hero to climb the mountain, bed the woman, return home, find the Maltese Falcon, save the Millennium Falcon, Falcon and the Snowman…well…you get my point.

    “Il Posto” is one of those films where NOTHING HAPPENS. Oh, sure, I know you can sit there and say: “Oh, but what nuance of nothingness! It’s a mirror image to show us the futility of Italian life in the early 1960’s! It is nothing and it is everything! It IS conflict, you just don’t see it in your 2009 mindset that something needs to explode, needs to be revealed, needs to happen EVERY F*CKING TEN MINUTES!!”

    Guilty. Sorry. Shoot me.

    Notice, now, I didn’t say I DIDN’T enjoy the film, I just thought it was interesting that you make a 90 minute long film where NOTHING HAPPENS.

    Okay – to the story.

    We meet Dominic. He looks like a nice, but shy, kid. Probably fresh out of high school. Seems that in the Commie-Pinko Italy of the 1960’s (assuming it’s set when the film was made) – if you graduate you get a JOB working for the government – as long as you pass a physical and take a math test. No fast food for Dom here. No struggling with a paper-route like this author. No temp job working in a stamp making factory. No…he’s just HANDED THE JOB. Golly, don’t let the conservatives hear about this.

    Of course while testing for the job he meets the beautiful young gal (whose name escapes me) and they strike up a friendship. After wandering the streets and coming back late for the physical exam (which makes Richard Simmons look like military boot camp training) he falls in love (?) with her.

    His job? Well, he wants (or is assigned) an accountant position (because he did so well on the ONE math question) but, due to the fact that no job is available – he gets dumped into the messenger pool. (I assume Il Posto means “The Messenger” or “The Postman” or “No Plot”.)

    In the messenger pool he finds out that the love of his life is a “typist” (sexist Italian bastards) and there’s a New Year’s party coming up and would she like to go. She says if she can talk her mom into it she’ll be there (or be square).

    He shows up at the party and it is COMPLETELY dead. But he gets a bottle of champagne because he didn’t show up with a gal. If you show up with a gal, you don’t get the bottle of champagne (sexist Italian bastards). Pretty soon, though, Dominic is striking up friendships and (GASP!) smiling and laughing and on the dance floor. Does the gal ever show up? No. That would be logical and somewhat, you know, plot or story like – don’t want to mess up this slice o’ life ball o’ fun with anything that resembles story, plot or forward movement.

    After the party a gentleman in the accounting department passes (in the film’s most poignant moment) and our young hero (?) is presented a job in the department and the film ends.

    WHAT I LIKED:

    All around the acting was good, cinematography was fine. I liked (and you’ll see also disliked), the shifting tone of the story. In the first hour it’s this sort of bleak slice of life film and then, the last 30 minutes there are some comedy bits that I found very enjoyable. Scenes from the party, a scene of struggle for who gets the “best desk.”

    WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH:

    The lack of anything resembling a plot. I wanted there to be more forward movement. I wanted there to be some sort of resolution with the relationship. I wanted him to find love and happiness and because the film-makers/story-tellers didn’t spell. It. Out. For. Me. That bothered me. The shift in tone was a bit weird.

    BOTTOM LINE:

    Surprisingly, this is one of those films that is growing on me. I’m still thinking about it days later when NOTHING HAPPENED. In some ways I think about it with the co-thought of “would audiences today embrace this film?” And in some ways I think about it with the co-thought of “I could do better than that – I’ve DONE better than that…” But, still…I’m thinking about the film. In spite of it lacking nearly everything conventional – I enjoyed the film. Go figure.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.