Friday, April 22, 2011

A Review of Il Posto, aka 'The Job' (Olmi, 1961)

Il Posto, aka "The Job"
Directed by Ermanno Olmi
Starring: Sandro Panseri, Loredana Detto
Grade: B+

Characterised by grim, authentic locations and a mundane sense of the 'routine', Neo-Realist cinema had had its heyday by the time Ermanno Olmi's "Il Posto" entered the fray. Part of a wave of Post Neo-Realism, his film (the English translation of which is ‘The Job’) stresses the precarious fiscal position that families find themselves in, and the introduction of a culture which promotes economic benefit as a substitute for happiness. While many see 1961 as belonging to Federico Fellini’s lavish La Dolce Vita, “Il Posto” represents a drastically different side of Italian society, devoid of cocktails, buxom blondes, and moonlit terraces.

Part of a post-war generation, graduate Domenico (Panseri) is put under pressure to work by his strict parents, who encourage him to attend a recruitment event for a large, well-known corporation. In doing so, he undergoes an exam, an aptitude test, and meets love interest Antonietta (Detto), whose striking features and comparable family situation attract his attention. Many days pass until Domenico is informed that he has been given a job at the company, and from there the film follows his efforts to fit into his new workplace, as well as his endeavour to secure the affection of his attractive colleague.

Particularly in the first half of the film, Olmi’s style draws us into the tentativeness of his leading man, but is also fiercely satirical towards the subject matter. The recruitment process Domenico takes part in consists of a simple problem-solving task, and an interview comprising of thoroughly absurd questions which probe his level of alcohol dependency and physical fitness. A medical exam consists of candidates taking it in turns to hold out their palms and squat in front of a panel of physicians. Olmi mocks corporate ideals of what makes a perfect ‘candidate’ in a similarly wry way to how Sofia Coppola critiques ‘celebrity’ in her films Lost in Translation and Somewhere, reducing characters to pawns within a commercial network.

Above all, "Il Posto" and Panseri instil awkward tension into their depiction of what is a very daunting ordeal. It details all of the intricacies of the protocol of starting a new job; not knowing where to put yourself, guaging what your superiors want to hear etc. Domenico enters an alien environment with the convincing trepidation of a kid thrust into the world of work, with a healthy degree of interest and promise in tow. The film shows how his inherent expectations become moulded with the realities of working life (especially at such a tender age) and rarely surrounds the boy with overly-uniform representations of restriction. But for some fussy moments with his parents Domenico encounters people who you can believe were once as fresh and hesitantly self-aware as he, and who have been believably indoctrinated into a capitalist way-of-life. These folks aren’t obstacles, but rather signifiers of the bigger picture, and watching this kid try to suss them out and try to adapt somewhat to their way-of-thinking helps to make “Il Posto” a truer story of fledgling professionalism.

As is usually the case with social commentary, the film is by no means a celebration of this lifestyle choice (neither is “La Dolce Vita, really) and Olmi is carefully selective not to make the tender moments of relativity between Domenico and Antonietta too open or electric. They aren’t sure of how they feel about each other, and it shows. Their time together feels precious, but not so distracting as to take away from the central conceit of tackling the pressures of instantly getting on the career ladder, and “Il Posto” doesn’t get too romantic or sentimental until much nearer the close. Instead, Olmi (not even thirty when this movie was filmed) uses Panseri’s raw and beautifully adept performance to chronicle the difficulties of having no bridge between education and employment. The final scene, in which Domenico comes across his first spar with workplace politics, perhaps most demonstrates the unforeseen implications of being a young professional, and the film’s bleak ending and grinding final credits only serve to reinforce the sense that this young man has been sold out.

The patience of “Il Posto” is one of its strongest features, and it succeeds through not being too overtly opposed to the attitude its character is pushed into. We aren’t made to rally valiantly behind him in the moments where he does face resistance, and for large periods Olmi’s well-observed style proves an effective way of studying this pocket of social transition in Italy. Some may find the sparse narrative and anti-climactic ending a tad slight, but as a cultural examination, the pickings are so rich that it’s difficult to complain. As mundane as the workplace is, “Il Posto” uses that to its advantage, summarising a commonplace arc in the new age of social mobility and reworking it as a personal portrait of the solitude of youth.

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