Italian director Ermanno Olmi, known for humanist dramas in which he explored spirituality and social themes such as “The Tree of Wooden Clogs,” which won the 1978 Cannes Palme d’Or, has died.
He was 87. Olmi died in a hospital in Asiago, Northern Italy, not far from Bassano del Grappa where since the 1980’s he had been running an innovative film school called Ipotesi Cinema. His wife and children were beside him. The exact cause of death is not know, but Olmi had reportedly been ill for some time.
Olmi, who began his career making short documentaries and often worked with non professional actors, also won the 1988 Venice Golden Lion for his “The Legend of the Holy Drinker,” starring Rutger Hauer. It’s based on a book by Austrian author Joseph Roth about a homeless man living under the bridges of Paris. After receiving a small loan by an anonymous stranger, the protagonist is determined to pay back his debt, but circumstances and his alcoholism get in the way.
“The Tree of Wooden Clogs,” Olmi’s homage to a disappearing peasant world, depicts both the hardship and the lyrical beauty of late nineteenth-century agrarian life in province of the Northern City of Bergamo, the area where he was born.
His 2001 film “Profession of Arms,” a rigorous account of the final days in the life of Giovanni De Medici, who embraced his role as a soldier with an almost religious devotion, played in competition in Cannes.
Born July 24, 1931, in Treviglio, near Bergamo, Olmi learned filmmaking while working for Milanese electric utility company Edisonvolta where he directed more than 40 short films and company documentaries from 1952 to 1961.
His first commercial feature film was self-produced 1961 drama “Il Posto” (“The Job”) about a young man’s isolation in the Milanese working world. The film went to the Venice Film Festival that year where it was well-received.
Olmi subsequently repeatedly turned to the themes of agrarian life, class structure, and Catholicism which dominate his oeuvre.
In 1965 he made a film about Angelo Roncalli before he became Pope John XXIII titled “A Man Called John,” starring Rod Steiger. Olmi’s last work was a 2017 documentary about the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a revered figure in Italy, titled “Vedete, sono uno di voi” which translates as “See, I’m one of you.”
Olmi is survived by his wife Loredana Olmi, who starred in “Il Posto,” and by his children Elisabetta, a producer; Fabio, a cinematographer; and Andrea who is a horse riding instructor.