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

La Notte (1961)

Relationships are constantly in a fluid state, and follow no prescribed formula. They are strengthened and weakened by monumental life events, small gestures, as well as geographical and emotional distance among a multitude of other variables. In turn, our self-worth and personal value is shaped by our sense of belonging. Marriage is the ultimate creation of partnership and potential enmeshment between two individuals, and its dissolution can create empowerment, disdain, or a void in the lives involved. “La Notte” (1961), the middle film in Michelangelo Antonioni’s trilogy of loneliness and emotional detachment, examines the decomposition of a marriage quite astutely.

Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) and Lidia Pontano (Jeanne Moreau) are an upper middle class Italian couple, with the former being a successful writer and the latter being a housewife originating from wealth. The palliative illness of their dear friend and writer Tommaso (Bernhard Wicki) distresses Lidia greatly, detaching herself physically from her famous husband for a brief period of time to pay homage to areas of Milan they knew when they were in love, optimistic, and naive. The film later tracks the course of their empty marriage throughout a party hosted by a highly materialistic businessman, Mr. Gherardini (Vincenzo Corbella). The value of fidelity, honesty, connection, purpose, and sense of identity are questioned by the main as well as some supporting cast. As in L’Avventura (1960), it becomes evident that monetary wealth facades the essence of individuality.

The party referred to in the previous paragraph took place during “the night”. Life-altering events or revelations can evolve slowly or occur instantaneously during a short period of time, such as over the course of an evening. The blackness and finality of night itself can signify bleakness, reflection, and absolution. It is thus no coincidence that many characters’ awareness of self and interpretation of the present in the film, especially that of Lidia, occurs over this time frame. Cognizance of the limitations of self-indulgence and vanity can also lead to comprehension of our shortcomings, sensitizing humans to the reality of the twists and turns that occur daily in our lives. Although not fully explored in this challenging and rewarding film, I feel that this strength can create resiliency, allowing us to tackle and cope with an assembly of puzzles and problems.

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L’Avventura (1960)

Careful character development and still, quiet cinematography are hallmarks of Michelangelo Antonioni’s work. Current directors, such as Steve McQueen, masterfully adopted this technique to allow viewers to be with the characters, delving into their worlds, and truly experiencing their joys and inner turmoil.  These emotions among many others are involved in human existence. However, true happiness is not quite as prevalent through Antonioni’s exploration of human vanity and emptiness in his renowned trilogy of films exploring this topic through the bourgeoisie lifestyle. “L’Avventura” is the first of the three films, the others being “La Notte” (1961) and “L’eclisse” (1962), probing into the reality of relationship progression, hurt, loss, vapidity, and guilt.

Anna (Lea Massari) and Claudia (Monica Vitti, a staple actress in this trilogy) are two beautiful best friends who go on a boating vacation off the glorious Italian coast with their wealthy companions. Anna is reunited with Sandro (Gabriel Ferzetti), her boyfriend who is often away on business trips. It becomes evident from their interactions that there is a high level of distance in their relationship, with Anna needing attention so that Sandro can ultimately prove his love. During the boating trip, Anna becomes a missing person – quite a terrifying ordeal. While search parties ensue, the dissolution and strengthening of various relationships within and closely surrounding that circle of friends occur. Concern for Anna’s wellbeing dissipates among some yet unsettles others. Claudia and Sandro’s bond further develops, with the looming idea of Anna threatening to squander and appropriately create guilt in said relationship.

The word “adventure” is usually associated with heroic tales of self-discovery, positively changing the course of one’s life. In this film’s context, this word drips with cynicism. The escapade undergone by characters in the film is filled with feelings of isolation, sadness, boredom, betrayal, as well as other aforementioned emotive nouns in their self-discovery. The wealthy background of each character has only masqueraded their true loneliness, and the road to fulfillment may damage others’ self-perceptions. This journey is unfortunately fuelled by a necessity to create detachment, as is evident with Claudia and Sandro’s coupling. These emotions are normal, raw human experiences, and many move day to day in life’s “adventure” feeling partial and disengaged for various reasons. This film reminds us of this reality, but also of the importance of creating meaningful, honest relationships and being true to one’s self. Authenticity is key in feeling whole, which is one factor responsible for increasing resiliency against life’s strains and hardships.

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