Monday, January 12, 2015

634. L'Albero degli zoccoli/The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978)

Running Time: 178 minutes
Directed By: Ermanno Olmi
Written By: Ermanno Olmi
Main Cast: Luigi Ornaghi, Francesca Moriggi, Omar Brignoli, Antonio Ferrari, Teresa Brescianini
Click here to view trailer


I'm tired, so this review may suffer - just a fair warning. I've been picking away at The Tree of Wooden Clogs for three sittings now and finally was able to finish it tonight, while my wife was at work. While it was long, I think the running time was justified. Read on...

Plot detail is going to be hard and it's because technically, not a lot happens that can just be described via written word. The film is more to be experienced, rather than to be told of second hand. I'll also say that - and this may be my own fault - but I found the characters hard to distinguish between. I knew Batisti was the one who cut down the tree (of wooden clogs) and that his son was the one going to school, but otherwise I kept getting confused as to who belonged to what family. The film tells of a group of four or five (again, it's hard to keep everyone straight) peasant families living under one roof, in a sort of apartment type place, but very rundown and very meager accommodations. The house is owned by a landlord, of whom the peasants have to give a percentage of their crops to once the harvest comes in (I believe it said two thirds, which is insane). Various things happen over the course of the film: Batisti's son begins school and Batisti couldn't be more proud of him, talking to him each night about what he learned that day and even learning a thing or two himself. One day while coming home from school Batisti's son breaks his clog and when he arrives home his father helps him hide it from mother. Later, Batisti goes out and chops down one of the landlords trees so that he can carve his son a new pair of shoes. There's also the courtship and eventual marriage of a young couple, smitten with one another (actually, he's a lot more smitten with her, than she is of him, it seems). You've got a grandfather who teaches his granddaughter the secret of ripe, early tomatoes and another peasant who finds a gold coin and hides it in the hoof of a horse. Also, one family tinkers with the idea of sending two of their children away, since the absence of a father has left the family dirt poor and running out of resources.

So why call it The Tree of Wooden Clogs? Here's my theory...

Batisti was a simple man. He couldn't lavishly provide for his family, so he provided for them the only way he knew how: with love. He loved his family and was especially proud of his son Minek (the one going to school). He eagerly awaited his arrival from the learning tree each day, so that he could spend time with Minek and discuss what his son had learned that day. It was the highlight of his day, really. I mean, what else did he have? Affixing horseshoes to horses? Plowing fields? Chopping fire wood? Let's face it, it was a dull life. A "get up, break your back, have a skimpy meal, hit the sack and do it all over again tomorrow" type of life. So when his son comes to him one day, with a broken shoe, Batisti is almost heartbroken. He can picture young Minek limping all the way home, down gravelly roads, one shoe on, one shoe off, his bare feet forced to walk along jagged rocks. He conspires with his son to keep the news of the broken shoe from his mother (who's just given birth and has enough on her plate). So what does Batisti do? He makes the boldest move he's ever made in his meager life, when he tells the children to "be good children", grabs an ax and goes out to chop down a tree, all for his boy who needs to go to school, who needs to be given the opportunity to do something that he never got to do and needs shoes to do it. It's not only about his son, but it's also probably the one dangerous, exciting thing this peasant farmer has ever done in his life. He tries his best to cover it up, thinking that no one will know that he's the one who's chopped the tree down. He's living now, really LIVING! He's being spontaneous and he's doing it all out of love for his boy, who he'll soon surprise with a brand new pair of hand carved clogs, made from the landlords tree. That tree, those hand made clogs, they mean so much...and in the end, they lead to Batisti's downfall. One split shoe sends Batisti and his family crumbling.

Sure, not a lot happens and sure, I can even understand people hating this one. In fact, if caught on a worse day, I could've seen myself hating this one. But, as it is, I actually sort of enjoyed this one. It's nothing glossy. I mean, hell, one of the main storylines revolves around an old man scooping hen dung so that he can grow bigger tomatoes and beat all the other growers to the much - tomato wise. It just exists. It's there and it's waiting to be experienced. It's unable to be recommended. I mean, think of it: "Hey man, you've gotta' see The Tree of Wooden Clogs - such a great movie!". Give me a break. It's not something that you go and tell you neighbor about and hope they'll like it, so you can swap theories. It's just there and if you like it, you like it and if you don't, you don't. It's a hard one to really explain and I realize I've said "it's just there" a thousand times now and I'm still tripping over my words, but it's not a film that's easy to articulate.

How do you get non actors, real farmers to show such raw emotion onscreen? Ask Ermanno Olmi, because he nailed it. Hell, it could've had real Italian actors and I'd still have never known the difference, but you can tell that the non actors already sort of knew the roles, that the frowns weren't made up, that the tears weren't crocodile - they've been in pain before, they knew how to convey it. I must also tell you, before I close, about the cinematography. I am now of the opinion that every great film should be shot using natural, outdoor lighting. It's hard to beat the reality of real, natural sunlight and dreariness. You can't fake this kind of stuff, this is more than a movie. The term movie even seems too generic when referring to The Tree of Wooden Clogs, like it just doesn't fit. Definitely a must see movie and while I may not go all the way, as far as my rating goes, I can tell you it certainly deserved it's Palme d'Or. I could sympathize with both negative and positive sides, when it comes to this movie. Both are explainable and acceptable. Boring and too long would be valid gripes, but gripes that simply didn't apply to my opinion on the film. Masterpiece and genius are two other words that would suffice and yet, two words that also didn't apply to my personal opinion. I'm done babbling....

RATING: 7/10  I don't know, why. Probably because I spotted flaws, I just chose to ignore them. One to ponder on, for sure.


January 12, 2015  10:54pm


  1. Another 'pretty much agree' reply I'm afraid, with nothing really to add.

    1. I'll put another check in the agree column!


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