Ermanno Olmi’s I Fidanzati (The Fiances) isn’t as great as his masterpiece, 1961’s Il Posto, but they have a lot in common. Like Il Posto, Olmi’s setup here is simple. The opening scene is particularly great:
This reminds me a little bit of another favorite, The Firemen’s Ball (Forman, 1967) in terms of the space. The shot at 1:24 is really gorgeous, emphasizing the depth of a relatively small hall. Like much of the film – and one of the reasons this film is so great – Olmi really pays particular attention to the different faces and characters that populate this village. Check out the guy in the white suit at 1:45.
That depth is important because Olmi later frames his two main characters – Giovanni (Carlo Cabrini) and Liliana (Anna Canzi) – against a flat wall, using opposite compositional strategies to further separate them from the action.
If you’ve read this blog before you’ll know that I’m a fan of silent scenes. The gestures and looks really go a long way in this set-up.
One of Olmi’s dominant techniques here is to use transdiegetic music – that is, music that seems sourced at first, and then “loses” its source. For example, in the above scene, Olmi shortly cuts away to an impressionistic flashback between the lovers, but the music from the hall “magically” remains there, as though the band is still playing with them in the past. It’s not a new technique, but Olmi is pretty bold here in playing with time in smooth ways and not overtly stating the flashback otherwise. It reminds me a bit of Resnais in that way.
I Fidanzati is made up largely of small scenarios. After Giovanni gets job and is called away – the source of the couple’s strife – he mostly wanders aimlessly, meeting a few characters (a favorite is a kid working at an incredibly high speed at a coffee shop because he’s so eager to get off from work) and checking out the city. It’s almost neo-realist in all of the walking, though there’s far less of a social concern here.
This is about absence making the heart grow fonder and distant love. For all of the classic screenwriter’s technique I espouse in class and try to adhere to, I really admire Olmi for straying far from it. He uses it all – flashback and flashforward, voiceover, characters talking to camera (Liliana’s letters are read aloud, by her, to us/Giovanni, as though she’s composing them in some alternate, unreal space) – and he doesn’t really pick up the narrative until the final 10 minutes. For a film under 80 minutes, much of the runtime is spent with Giovanni figuring out silently that he loves Liliana, though we’re only verbally cued to that as the action falls and film concludes. It’s risky and far from the rules of traditional drama.
Philly Film Festival
I didn’t get to as many films as I’d have liked to this year, but here are a few write-ups for the ones I did see.
Blue Ruin (Saulnier, 2013)
A really solid revenge film. Nice and slow burning. My review is HERE.
Let The Fire Burn (Osder, 2013)
Particularly interesting for any Philly natives, this found-footage doc lacks some technique, but it’s a rewarding look at the MOVE bombing in west Philly in the 1980s. My article and partial review is HERE.
La Jaula de Oro (Quemada-Diez, 2013)
Kind of like Sin Nombre with younger kids. HERE’s my review.
Paradise: Hope (Seidl, 2013)
My favorite film of the festival. Ulrich Seidl’s trilogy is really, really awesome! Easily some of my favorite films of the year, as well. My review is HERE.
Stranger by the Lake (Guiraudie, 2013)
A really sexually explicit film (I’m going to see Blue is the Warmest Color tonight, so we’ll see how that compares), this film reminded me a lot of a Chabrol movie. The technique is very distant (lots of wide-shots by, you guessed it, the lake), the inspector character comes in in the final act, the characters are upper class.
The last act, where this becomes a true suspense film is where it’s most successful. This is a mood piece before that, and the sex and atmosphere kind of reminds me of a combination of With a Friend Like Harry and Bruno Dumont’s worst film, Twentynine Palms.
Apaches (Peretti, 2013)
This “partying kids, leads to trouble the next day,” + “outsider in France” story is something I’ve seen before. It reminds me of a weaker slice of Code: Unknown. There’s no palpable tension, and the script seems all over the place. One minute it’s an ensemble piece and the next we’ve suddenly whittled down to only a handful of characters and forgotten the rest of the cast.
There’s a laughable post-murder scene involving ravenous sausage eating.
The ending shot here is the best part. It’s vague and allusive, using the now-classic technique of putting us in the position of being viewed and pointed at.