No cause of death was given. Italian officials confirmed the passing of Olmi, whose films also include Il Posto, Walking, Walking, The Legend of the Holy Drinker and Long Live the Lady!
Tree of Wooden Clogs, which was the unanimous choice of the Cannes jury, depicts the rough-edged beauty of late-19th-century agrarian life in Italy. Unfolding in long, impressionistic takes, it tells the story of four families living and working on an estate run by a greedy landowner.
The Legend of the Holy Drinker, which starred Rutger Hauer, won the Golden Lion in Venice in 1988. The Venice festival also awarded Olmi a career Golden Lion in 2004. Initially, he refused it, saying he “still had feature films to make,” but he relented four years later.
With Olmi’s death, “we lose a master of cinema and a great example of culture and life. His enchanted gaze told us and made us understand the roots of our country,” Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni said via Twitter. Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, called Olmi “a deep-thinking intellectual who explored the human mystery, and described, with the poetry that characterized his work, the connection between man and nature, the dignity of labor, and its spirituality.”
Martin Scorsese, one of the many filmmakers influenced by Olmi’s work, also issued a statement. “Ermanno Olmi was one of the last of the great filmmakers of the 60s,” Scorsese said. “I will never forget the first time I saw his pictures Il Posto and I Fidanzati, which were released around the same time in the United States but made two years apart. I was truly astonished by both, and I went back to see them again and again. Their effect on me and on so many others of my generation and after, from all over the world, was incalculable. Olmi remained an absolutely individual artist, from those early pictures to the remarkable Tree of Wooden Clogs all the way up to the wild freedom of the last films, like Singing Behind Screens and One Hundred Nails. I will miss Olmi the artist and Olmi himself, because he was as warm and human as his pictures.”
Olmi was born in 1931 in Bergamo, a city northeast of Milan. At 30, he married Loredana Detto, who survives him along with three children. Detto was one of many non-actors cast by Olmi in many of his films. She appeared in Il Posto as a teenager working in a large corporate office.
Here is a 2016 appreciation of Olmi’s work by American filmmaker Mike Mills: