The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978)

Divisions and inequities between social classes have plagued the well-being of a multitude of societies for centuries. One major contributor to this boundary has been the wealthy profiting from the hard work of labourers. The truck system once used by merchants and fishermen in the nineteenth century in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada is one example of this exploitation. International demand and poor supply of codfish were important factors in determining the amount of credit that fishermen would receive in a season. However, merchants often engrossingly controlled this credit system. Many fishermen would remain in debt or barely make ends meet despite their arduous and sometimes life-threatening work. This type of working environment and indomitable power created constant fear and poverty. “The Tree of Wooden Clogs”, a 1978 Italian film directed by Ermanno Olmi, explores a similar contentious, fragile relationship between landowners and farmers in nineteenth century Italy.

Many joyous and trying stories envelop this film with bleak yet beautiful cinematography. The lives and alliances of four families harvesting vegetables and livestock are examined with a gradual pace, allowing the tales to humorously and sometimes tragically unfold as nature intended. Their rich landlord profits two thirds of their yearly harvest, a blatant exploitation of his tenants’ patience, talents, intelligence, and fortitude. In spite of this, the families collectively find solace in hope, religion, laughter, and support from one another. The sheer will and strength needed to survive in these often dire conditions is a testament to the mutual affection and respect shared between these families. I feel that a large aspect of the film’s authenticity lies in the actors and actresses originating from the farming province of Bergamo in Italy. This definitely allows for a heightened sense of awareness and connection to the hardships and successes of the types of stories portrayed in the film.

The title of the film refers to one instrumental storyline. Batisti (Luigi Ornaghi) recognizes that his young son Minec (Omar Brignoli) is having difficulty walking the collective eight miles to and from school daily secondary to his dilapidated clogs. He boldly chops down part of a tree on a well-traversed path by the landlord to lovingly construct new clogs for his son, as the family cannot afford to purchase new shoes. Batisti is highly aware of the gravity and potential financial consequences of his deed, but ignores these regulations to momentarily improve the well-being of his son. While his fears echo the utter hypocrisy of maltreatment of the poor, his defiance of “order” demonstrates that love and devotion always extend far beyond petty rules. The type of bravery and gumption that Batisti exercised has been demonstrated worldwide in many seemingly small acts. While some have led to persecution, others have led to the creation of unions and advancement in human rights. While sometimes difficult and resisted, doing what is right is the ultimate victory for humanity as a whole.

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I do not own the above image.

As well, here is a link about the truck credit system: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/economy/truck-system.php

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