Ermanno Olmi (Bergamo, July 24, 1931 – Asiago, May 7, 2018) was an Italian film director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, editor, and writer. Primarily known for his work in cinema, Olmi achieved international acclaim with a body of films that frequently explored social and humanist themes.
Early Life and Education
Born in Bergamo, Olmi was raised in Treviglio after his family, consisting of a railroad worker father and a laborer mother, moved there when he was a young child. Despite some confusion about his place of birth, Olmi clarified in an interview that he was born in Bergamo, in a neighborhood called Malpensata. He grew up in a deeply Catholic family and lost his father during World War II. Olmi initially attended a scientific high school and later an art high school but did not complete his studies.
Start of Career
Olmi moved to Milan to take acting classes at the Academy of Dramatic Art. To support himself, he took a job as a messenger at Edison-Volta, where his mother also worked. This job gave him the opportunity to organize recreational activities for employees and to document industrial productions through films. Between 1953 and 1961, Olmi directed dozens of documentaries, marking his entrance into the world of cinema.
Debut and Early Works
Olmi made his feature film debut in 1959 with Il tempo si è fermato, a story focused on the friendship between a student and a dam guardian set in the isolation of the high mountains. His subsequent film, Il posto (1961), garnered critical acclaim and won the critics’ prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1961.
Throughout his career, Olmi remained true to his stylistic approach. His films often concentrated on the lives of ordinary people, their relationship with nature, and themes of loneliness. He preferred working with non-professional actors to maintain the authenticity of his narrative.
Olmi’s masterpiece is generally considered to be L’albero degli zoccoli (The Tree of Wooden Clogs,1978), which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the César Award for Best Foreign Film. The film presented a poetic yet realistic view of peasant life, echoing Olmi’s own upbringing and consistent thematic focus.
Later Career and Awards
In the later years of his career, Olmi continued to make films that garnered various awards, including La leggenda del santo bevitore (The Legend of the Holy Drinker, 1988), which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. In 2008, he was honored with a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the same festival.
Final Years and Legacy
Olmi passed away at the age of 86 on May 7, 2018, in Asiago hospital. He had been suffering from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a debilitating condition that had kept him largely out of public life in his later years.
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