Monday, December 15, 2008
Films I Love #11: I Fidanzati (Ermanno Olmi, 1962)
Ermanno Olmi's I Fidanzati is a deceptively simple film that is stunning in its effect. Its minimal story concerns the construction worker Giovanni (Carlo Cabrini), who is forced to leave behind his home town and his fiancée Liliana (Anna Canzi) in order to find a better job in a different part of the country. After an opening dancehall scene that is surprisingly static and formal, the film shifts subtly back and forth between Giovanni's tenure in the south of Italy, and his memories of his troubled engagement to Liliana back home. Long stretches function almost like a silent film, capturing the quiet and stillness of rural life, as well as evoking the loneliness and isolation of Giovanni, alone in an unfamiliar place, far from his family and those he loves. Olmi's lush, textured images are so classically beautiful as individual frames that it's easy to forget the perfect control and crispness of his editing rhythms. These sumptuous visuals capture the forlorn beauty of the rural landscapes that Giovanni wanders through, even finding cause for wonder in such unlikely images as a nighttime work site, where showers of sparks from welding torches are transformed into an unearthly fireworks display.
The accumulation of detail and incident is slow and deliberate, gently nudging the protagonist towards the realization of how deeply he misses his fiancée and how much he values their relationship. In the final twenty minutes of the film, the couple begin exchanging letters, which are read aloud in voiceover. This sudden outpouring of open, sincere communication has an energizing effect in contrast to the rest of the film's quiet and reserve. And despite the romanticism of this central relationship and the beauty of Olmi's images, the film also serves as a subtle Marxist critique of the alienation of labor, the economic pressures that uproot workers from their homes and their families in search of increasingly scarcer and lower-paying jobs. Like most great political films, I Fidanzati locates its politics squarely in the personal, in the dramas of separation and love that drive its central couple.