Italian film director Ermanno Olmi dies

Film director Ermanno Olmi has died at the age of 87.Italian director Ermanno Olmi, known for humanist dramas in which he explored spirituality and social themes such as The Tree of Wooden Clogs, which won the 1978 Cannes Palme d’Or, has died aged 86.

Olmi died in a hospital in Asiago, Northern Italy, not far from Bassano del Grappa where since the 1980’s he had been running an innovative film school called Ipotesi Cinema.

His wife and children were beside him. The exact cause of death is not known, but Olmi had reportedly been ill for some time.

Olmi, who began his career making short documentaries and often worked with non professional actors, also won the 1988 Venice Golden Lion for his The Legend of the Holy Drinker, starring Rutger Hauer.

It was based on a book by Austrian author Joseph Roth about a homeless man living under the bridges of Paris. After receiving a small loan by an anonymous stranger, the protagonist is determined to pay back his debt, but circumstances and his alcoholism forever intervene.

The Tree of Wooden Clogs, his homage to a disappearing peasant world, depicts both the hardship and the beauty of late nineteenth-century agrarian life in the province of the Northern City of Bergamo, the area where he was born.

His 2001 film Profession of Arms, a rigorous account of the final days in the life of Giovanni De Medici, who embraced his role as a soldier with an almost religious devotion, played in competition in Cannes.

Born July 24, 1931, in Treviglio, near Bergamo, Olmi learned filmmaking while working for Milanese electric utility company Edisonvolta where he directed more than 40 short informational films and company documentaries from 1952 to 1961.

His first commercial feature film was self-produced drama Il Posto (The Job) about a young man’s isolation in the Milanese working world. The film went to the Venice Film Festival where it was well-received.

Olmi subsequently turned to the themes of agrarian life, and class structure, and Catholicism which dominated his work throughout.

In 1965 he made a film about Angelo Roncalli before he became Pope John XXIII titled A Man Called John, starring Rod Steiger. Olmi’s last work was a 2017 documentary about the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a revered figure in Italy, titled Vedete, sono uno di voi which translates as See, I’m one of you.