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Film / The Tree of Wooden Clogs

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The Tree Of Wooden Clogs is a 1978 film from Italy, directed by Ermanno Olmi. Its original title is L'Albero degli zoccoli.

It is a year in the life of four peasant families in rural Lombardy at the end of the 19th century. They live in dire poverty in a communal farmhouse on the property of an uncaring landlord. They till the landlord's soil and in return have to give him 2/3 of the crops they raise. The families themselves have their own problems. Batisti, one of the farmhands, has an exceptionally bright little boy named Minek. The local priest urges Batisti to send the boy to school, and Batisti reluctantly does, even though poor Minek will have to walk 12 kilometers round trip to school every single day. A woman, the Widow Runk, wonders how she can support her six children after the recent death of her husband. Anselmo, a young man, courts the pretty Maddalena. Time passes and life goes on.

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Filmed on location in Lombardy with a cast of locals who spoke the local Bergamo dialect, one that isn't easy for other Italians to understand.


Tropes:

  • Amateur Cast: No professional actors, as Olmi hired local villagers, in Italian neorealist tradition.
  • Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts: The grandpa tells a scary bedtime story to the kids. A man robs the jewelry from a woman's grave, cutting off her hand to do so. Later he encounters a woman dressed all in black, who asks him for a ride to the cemetery...
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: Opens with a closeup of wheat growing in the field.
  • Call-Forward: There are allusions to the political turmoil that will roil Italy in the new century. A Communist harangues the crowd at the fair; Maddalena and Stefano see dissidents being arrested in Milan. The peasants are indifferent.
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  • Don't Split Us Up: Things are desperate enough for the Widow Runk that she seriously contemplates farming her two youngest children out to an orphanage, but her eldest son Anselmo prevails on her not to.
  • Down on the Farm: The life of tenant farmers on a rural and not all that prosperous Italian estate.
  • Embarrassing Damp Sheets: One mother yells at her 15-year-old son who is still wetting the bed.
  • Idiot Ball: The particularly dimwitted Finard finds a coin on the ground at the fair. Does he simply keep it in his pocket? No. Hide it under his bed, hide it in his hat? No and no. He jams it up into the mud that is gunked up under the horse's hoof. Finard is unpleasantly surprised when he goes back to the horse later and finds the coin gone.
  • Jerkass: The asshole landowner. What does he do, when he finds out that Batisti cut down a tree to make shoes for his son? He kicks them off his land, leaving them wandering the roads and facing an uncertain fate.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: Graphically averted. It's one thing to see a peasant casually pick up a waddling duck, whack its head off with a hatchet, and drain the blood, all in one casual motion. There's also a whole scene that involves the slaughter and butchering of a hog, shown in graphic detail, which some viewers may find difficult.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Batisti and his family riding away on a cart as the other families in the house watch sadly.
  • Slice of Life: There isn't really a single protagonist or an overarching plot. It's a portrait of the year in the life of the Italian rural poor of a bygone era.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: One bit of comic relief involves a salesman at the fair convincing the rubes to buy his oil, which supposedly has healing powers.
  • Wedding Day: Near the end of the movie Maddalena and Stefano get married in the village church.

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