The Slow and the Mild-Mannered: Milano Drift

14 Nov 2013: Il Posto (DVD, 1961, Ermanno Olmi)

The dreamlike mundanity on offer here harks forward to another Italian, Marco Ferreri, but with more of a focus on cinematography and even more of a locational drift. The camera itself drifts beginning with the opening scene, glacially dollying from one part of the room to another and back, and continues throughout, always with a wide-angle lens to keep the whole scene in focus, giving the proceedings that eerie oneiric feel of casually gliding through large spaces. Compositions present the meek main character within a setting that dwarfs his diminutive stature even further, placing him at the far corner of an executive’s desk or alone and forlorn at a table at a nearly unattended company dance. His peripherality and the ubiquitous meandering of shots lend themselves to one of the film’s peaks, a sudden departure from the boy’s subjective view to a series of apartments in which the idiosyncratic desk jockeys he sees at work are shown at home in the thick of their nocturnal hobbies, pleasures and sufferings. It has absolutely nothing to do with what has preceded or what follows it, but that’s what so fantastic about it, that one can suddenly realize that random looks at wildly divergent subjects provide just as much delight as sticking to a single one. This humor and style anticipate later absurd and quirky works by directors like Wes Anderson yet with less dependence on words and edits to sell laughs and feelings. Not only this, but the drama remains on a “low,” everyday level, exalting subtle emotions and circumstances more than superlative or hyperbolic ones, but resonates just as powerfully and meaningfully as any of Aeschylus’ hand-wringing declamation plays.

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