A largely unheralded director, Olmi is known for his simple technical style and concern for the issues facing working people have made his films poetic insights into human strength and integrity. Olmi's parents were peasants who moved to the city to find jobs. For several years, his mother worked for the Edison-Volta company, where Olmi landed his first job as a clerk. Through his participation in company theater and film events, he was eventually put in charge of Edison's film department.
Over a period of seven years he was involved in the production of over 40 films at Edison-Volta, mainly industrial documentaries and docudramas. Olmi's final film for Edison, "Il Tempo si e Fermato" (1959), ostensibly about the building of a dam in the Alps, is really a story of the relationship that develops between an aging watchman and his student assistant. Olmi's ability to portray subtle actions revealing deeper personal significance was first evident here. With "Il Tempo si e Fermato"'s success, Olmi quit Edison to devote himself to theatrical filmmaking. In Milan he helped form an independent film cooperative known as "The Twenty-Four Horses," which provided financial assistance for his first independent effort, "Il Posto" (1961). Partially autobiographical, "Il Posto"'s minimal plot follows a young man who comes to the city to work his first job as a clerk for a large company. He becomes accustomed to daily routines while harboring simple dreams of acceptance and romance. Finally, he becomes yet another cog in the wheel of his impersonal factory. Olmi's next feature, "The Fiances" (1963), was also made on a minuscule budget with the assistance of the film cooperative "December 12." Though technically simple, "The Fiances"'s complex narrative weaves past and present as it studies the unstable relationship between a couple whose plans for marriage are interrupted by an 18-month separation. These two features were impressive enough to merit Olmi the direction of his first and only commercial endeavor, "And There Came A Man" (1965), a big-budget biography of Pope John XXIII starring Rod Steiger. Poorly received, this effort did little to help Olmi's marginal reputation. Olmi made one more feature, "One Fine Day" (1968), before turning his attention for a time to TV.
With his reputation as a director worthy of international recognition almost completely dissipated, Olmi then made an auspicious return to form with "The Tree of Wooden Clogs" (1978). The winner of several major awards at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival, including the Golden Palm, the film is set on a farm where five peasant families glean existence from the land. A series of vignettes vividly portrays the sorrows, joys and resilience of the peasants, making the film a moving tribute to the strength of the human spirit and a notable record of the rhythms of everyday Italian country life.
With only a handful of credits, Olmi's position is unique in modern film in that he retains complete control over his movies by producing, directing, shooting and editing them. With one exception, "And There Came A Man," he has employed only nonprofessional actors. Unlike many of his fellow countrymen who have become world figures in the film industry, Olmi has remained a practicing Catholic throughout his life.
Director (Feature Film)
Cinematography (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Editing (Feature Film)
Art Director (Feature Film)
Costume-Wardrobe (Feature Film)
Film Production - Main (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Made first feature (semi-documentary), "Time Stood Still"
Formed "22 December" production company with Tullio Kezich and others
Began working for Italian TV
Filmed most important film to date, "The Tree of Wooden Clogs (L'Albero degli zoccoli)"
Returned to filmmaking with "L'Anniversaire de Madame"
Helmed "The Profession of Arms"
Wrote and directed "Cantando dietro i paraventi"
Directed the film "Centochiodi"