Review: Il Posto

Il Posto captures the fragile moment of leaving your parent’s orbit and beginning to establish your own. Directed by Ermanno Olmi, the 1961 film is set in Milan of that era. It shares the path of young Domenico as he seeks a job with the local industrial-scale employer.

Roused from his bed in the family flat, Domenico joins a crowd of hopefuls for a bizarre, science-ish testing regimen that will determine who gets positions. He’s accepted, and we see him settle into working life at a massive bureaucracy. It’s a place where no one’s services seem particularly needed, except the secretary who brews the big boss’ coffee and the elevator man who takes his coat.

“It’s a job for life,” everyone tells the young applicant, and that seems to be true. Employees pass the time, clinging to their place in the corporate structure like Stephen Root holding to his stapler in Office Space. But while the situations provide some laughs, the need of the workers is evident—this workplace may be absurd, but it provides a living.

As the secretaries note, Domenico is very young and handsome. He’s also naïve—not willfully, but from inexperience. Every encounter still has something to teach him. He spends much of the movie passive but intent: watching, listening and looking to learn from the baffling world outside his home. His performance is excellent, capturing the tentativeness of late adolescence, the unwillingness to put oneself forward.

Olmi made the film on the weekends, using equipment borrowed from his day job as a documentary filmmaker for Edison. It uses the real corporate settings, filling them with nonprofessional actors, people who might inhabit these jobs in real life. It feels authentic, capturing the small details of working life—and life away from work—in rich, familiar ways.

This grounded approach sparks memorable results. The director captures a budding relationship with awkward advances and self-imposed barriers. He illuminates a party no one goes to, using it to highlight the fine line between wallflower and walled-off. He leaves the workplace for short vignettes to humanize the drones behind the desks. And he uses a literal race for the front desk to capture the way we’ll scramble for so very little.

Above all, he captures what it’s like to work when you have to work. In gaining his job, Domenico finds himself set for life—and probably already dreaming of something better.


Thanks to Ted Barron in Notre Dame Magazine for the recommendation.