The Tree Of Wooden Clogs (free)

  • Vilas Hall 821 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States

At 182 minutes, The Tree Of Wooden Clogs (1978) may be UW Cinematheque's lengthiest presentation of the summer. But the film doesn't feel terribly long, thanks to the engrossing verisimilitude director Ermanno Olmi creates with his on-location shooting in the fertile Lombardy region of Italy. Set at the end of the 19th century, the Palme d'Or-winner's neo-realist narrative juxtaposes an enduring earthen beauty with the obstinance of ancestral and religious tradition in focusing on the agrarian lives of four peasant families. Using a cast of local non-professionals who learned the vernacular of the period, The Tree Of Wooden Clogs achieves a rare intimacy that seems at once literary and painterly in its meticulous framing. The tale begins with the clash between a Bergamo priest and a father's guidance for young Minec (Omar Brignoli). While the boy's family needs him to stay to work on the farm, the minister deems Minec's education the will of God. And so, despite the inconvenience (and perhaps legitimizing all those "when I was your age" tropes), the boy slogs four miles one way to the nearest school in awkward wooden clogs. It provides the foundation for the arduous journey ahead for all men, women and children exploited by a single landowner simply to earn a meager living. The rigorous branching depictions are sure to draw comparison to the repetitions of Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman (1975). Yet in documenting the customs and planting-harvesting seasons, Olmi explores the human condition's innate bond with nature. The film screens here in a new digital restoration. —Grant Phipps