I Fidanzati – Ermanno Olmi (1962)

“First the glimmering white and black images of Ermanno Olmi’s I Fidanzati light up the screen and warm your heart. Then they abruptly flicker out—like imagined fleeting glances of a love affair you can’t forget but couldn’t hold onto. In seventy-some minutes, I Fidanzati teaches – no, simply lets you learn – about distance, time and the uncontrollable, bittersweet ways in which romances wax and wane. Olmi introduces the fiancés’ plight in images of the pair sitting still across an empty table. They are in a dance hall suffused with the nervous longings of wallflowers stuck in anticipation. From the first to last, the scenes and sequences of I Fidanzati are as affecting as the quiet looks on the fiancés’ faces at this moment: she, hands in lap, looking away from him with the gentlest irritation; he, staring past her, slightly bemused and frustrated. These are humble people with a modest desire for mutual understanding, but they’ve somehow stumbled past each year and their once-shared sympathy. Giovanni, it shortly becomes clear, is leaving for factory work in Sicily, and his relationship with Liliana has become strained. Less sentimental than they are emotionally compelling, the great early films of Olmi are also less overtly political and more sociologically insightful than their canonical Neo-Realist forbearers. Though they are outsiders and latecomers that don’t quite fit Italian Neo-Realism’s Platonic ideal – some combination of non- and professional actors, gritty locations, working-class struggle, and pathos-inducing children, all shot with enough spatial continuity to keep André Bazin credulous – Olmi’s homespun but scrupulously non-didactic works feel closer to ‘realism’ with a lower case ‘r.’ Whether about interpersonal affections, the strains put on relationships by displaced labor, or the alienating but darkly humorous toils of the modern, mechanized workplace, Olmi’s films are so lovingly composed that it’s no surprise to learn that he understood all aspects of the film production process—from the highly technical to the ethereal. To get a sense of Olmi’s craft and to contextualize I Fidanzati within the history of Italian film, it’s helpful not just to look backward to Neo-Realism but also to consider Olmi’s contemporary, Antonioni, who was transitioning from a relatively unheralded filmmaker to an art-house cause célèbre when Olmi was just beginning. …”
Pop Matters
W – I Fidanzati
YouTube: I Fidanzati Trailer, Under the Influence: Mike Mills on Ermanno Olmi, I Fidanzati opening scene

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