Il Posto (1961)

Directed by Ermanno Olmi

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In Il Posto a Timothee Chalamet-looking young man, Domenico, reluctantly joins the working force.  It’s a daunting and certainly droll process that introduces him to Antonietta, another applicant for the large, unnamed and unimportant corporation.

It doesn’t matter what they do as long as they are paid to do it.  Domenico’s father explains that this interview process is important because, should he receive an offer, he could be employed for life.  That kind of job security for one generation is all that matters, but for Domenico’s it is akin to an early grave.

Jumping ahead, Domenico does get a job offer, and Antonietta does as well.  They accomplish what they came to do, but Il Posto ends on an incredibly amusing and yet heartbreaking final note.  Domenico will sit at a desk with his entire future ahead of him, but because of the company he keeps we get the impression that he will sit there slowly rotting away for the rest of his days.

Il Posto is a tender, heartwarming coming of age tale for parts of its runtime, but it is also a scathing satire of sorts too.  The most entertaining sequence of the film follows Domenico and Antonietta as they get to know each other while wandering around town during a break in their interview process.

It’s the only time we get to see Domenico let his guard down, even as he has enough of a facade up to impress this sudden girl of his dreams.  Their flirtation is playful and innocent and all the more heartbreaking because of it.  They are only children, we realize, who are thrust into the world of corporate adults.

Because they are placed in different departments with different schedules, the company that first brought Domenico and Antonietta together will keep them apart.  They only cross paths for the briefest of moments during the film’s second half, but Domenico never gives up hope.

It all builds to a New Year’s Eve party thrown by the company.  Domenico arrives hoping to find Antonietta, but he walks in to find a mausoleum of a dance hall, music playing but hardly anyone in attendance.  It’s both strikingly funny and sad, as much of the film is.

Soon he is encouraged to sit with an older married couple who get him to open up a little, and after a few drinks and a few more guests, Domenico finds himself having a grand ‘ol time on the dance floor.  The scene captures the awkwardness and eventual thrills of any school dance you may have gone to as a teenager.  Because of that discomfort at the start, the eventual joy Domenico expresses is incredibly cathartic, but then we cut quickly from that back to a staid corporate office where stuffy employees we’ve briefly met before stare in silence at the desk of a recently deceased employee.

Standing there too is Domenico, just as meek and wide-eyed as he’s ever been throughout the film.  The desk is now his, and he will sit down apprehensively, surrounded by company men and women who have paid their dues for a couple decades.

One of these employees angrily strides up to the boss and demands to have Domenico’s front row desk, considering he’s been there twenty years.  The boss puts up next to no fight and says sure.  He politely asks Domenico to move to the back row, and as he packs up his things, the other employees clutch their own belongings like hawks and swoop up to the desk before them.  This means row number two moves up to number one, number three to number two, etc.  The man who initially complained only moves up one row from the back, and Domenico takes his place.

Years of company service lead to humble promotions only when another has died.  Domenico takes his place in the back of the line according to seniority, and the end credits role, just as they do in 2017’s Call Me By Your Name.

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Don’t they look alike?

So Il Posto is a delicate, melancholic coming of age story.  It has quiet hope which is then snuffed out by the end.  Domenico inspires our empathy, even the empathy of kind onlookers, but no one can stop what is already in motion as he is grabbed up by the faceless, impersonal corporation and put in his place, presumably until he dies.  That security so craved for by his parents’ generation is a curse for his.  They were out to survive, and he’s out to do something more, but because he still follows in their footsteps, he is left to what looks like a very unfulfilling life toeing the company line.

Poor Domenico, that’s all I can say.  We are never so well acquainted with Antonietta to understand how she feels about all of this.  While Domenico becomes a messenger, she becomes a typist.  We feel his yearning, but she is still a less developed character to whom we can attach any myriad of feelings.  Maybe she’s found the job right for her or maybe she will be just as unfulfilled as he.

For the most part, Antonietta is only there to be the object of Domenico’s affections.  Taking a step back you get the sense that even were they to find each other, fall in love and make a life together, it still wouldn’t be enough.  The world of Il Posto is quite rigid and uncomfortable.  It’s crowded, with few options beyond being absorbed into the large company and spit out when you’re dead.

The older generation can tolerate it, but they are also the same people who lived through World War II and the likes of Mussolini.  To them this is a clear upgrade, but to people like Domenico, who didn’t grow up with the same hardships, safety isn’t enough.  It’s the same generational difference touched upon in Mike Mills’ Beginners (also the reason I decided to watch this old movie).

So there are generational gaps here, and the world Domenico is pulled into is an outdated one, a society built for the older demographic.  In some ways it just feels like the opposite of what we have in America, at least in the more populous areas.  Here in Silicon Valley, for example, everything is about function and speed.  Technology and even people change with such quickness that it feels as though once you turn thirty, let’s say, you feel behind the times.  It’s a young man’s/woman’s game, and it’s hard not to feel like you’ve aged out of pop culture when you stop paying attention for a month or two.

So we live in a time where things move quickly, and Domenico lives in a time where things move slowly.  He has developed to long for certain things that his world doesn’t offer.

Up Next: The Mechanic (1972), Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Camera Buff (1979)

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