Director Ermanno Olmi, aged 86, died yesterday in Asiago. He was born on July 24 1931 in Bergamo. The self-taught director was a pioneer in the field of documentary film, the creator of a personal language that surpassed traditional canons, even in early works such as Time Stood Still, I recuperanti and The Circumstance. Olmi was an inexhaustible experimenter: thanks to him dialect entered film as a language for the first time (The Tree of Wooden Clogs, Palme D’Or at Cannes in 1978) as well as the great myths of Christian tradition (Walking Walking).
Olmi’s range of styles was very broad, including a variety of tones and genres, from the historical tale to the allegory, to various forms of tales. In the early days of his career the director was in charge of the cinematographic service of Edisonvolta, for which he created dozens of films: some of the best know works are La diga sul ghiacciaio, Tre fili fino a Milano, Un metro è lungo cinque. These are accounts of the electrical service’s activity, as planned by the agency, however they already carefully portray the efforts and industriousness of its workers.
During the Fifties Olmi also shot short films such as Manon finestra 2 and Grigio (the script is by Pasolini). Memorable films by Olmi also include Il posto, the story of two young people starting their first job in a firm in Milan during the so called economic boom. After that came I fidanzati, set in a working class environment, where the first signs of an emerging preoccupation about a sentimental crisis can be seen.
In A Man Named John (1965), a biography of pope John XIII, the director addresses his religious sensibility, with the usual earthly and eminently human perspective. After a number of films with a strong metaphorical vein (One Fine Day, Durante l'estate) he directed what is considered to be his masterpiece, The Tree of Wooden Clogs, a pheasant fairytale.
Having achieved international recognition, Olmi moved to Asiago, and in 1982 in Bassano del Grappa he started Ipotesi Cinema, “a cinema factory”, and working with Rai, then headed by Paolo Valmarana, he trained new directors. Weakened by a debilitating illness and suffering from depression, Olmi avoided the set for a long period of time. He returned to filmmaking in the mid Eighties with the parable Long Live the Lady! (awarded with the Silver Lion in Venice) and The Legend of the Holy Drinker (Golden Lion, inspired by the novel by Joseph Roth, that friend and critique Tullio Kezich, who would become the co-script writer for the film, introduced him to).
He then directed Paolo Villaggio in the film The Secret of the Old Woods, from the novel by Dino Buzzati. From the year 2000 Olmi’s filmography includes some very original works, such as The Profession of Arms, the story of the last days of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere; Singing behind Screens, a pacifist costume film with Bud Spencer and a cast of oriental actors. In 2007 he directed One Hundred Nails, a parable of the life of Christ; then came fiction works such as The Cardboard Village and Greenery Will Bloom Again, set in the trenches of the planes of Asiago during World War I. Only a year ago Olmi directed an intense portrait of cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (1927-2012) with the documentary Vedete, sono uno di voi, written with Marco Garzonio and produced by Rai Cinema and Istituto Luce Cinecittà.
Awarded the Golden Lion and a number of other prizes, Olmi was also the author of books: the best known is 'Ragazzo della Bovisa'.