Koch Vision // 1978 // 177 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // November 2nd, 2004
"To see it is to be stirred to the depths of one's soul...a cinematic miracle." -- Andrew Sarris, The Village Voice
Ermanno Olmi's 1978 epic masterpiece The Tree of Wooden Clogs is a lengthy slice of life that chronicles the life of a peasant family in Bergamo, Italy. I normally do not precede my reviews with quotes from other critics, but I find that Mr. Sarris's blurb is particularly sharp and well founded. The Tree of Wooden Clogs is an emotional experience that will touch the soul deeper than it has ever been touched before.
Patriarch Batisti (Luigi Ornaghi) is a proud man who wants his young son to have a better life than he has been able to give him so far. He decides to send the boy to school, which is far away. In his only pair of wooden clogs, the child makes the long trek to class on foot. Everything goes well until one critical day when the wooden clogs are no longer usable. Wood is scarce in Bergamo, as is money, so Batisti decides to quietly sneak into a rich man's grove and "borrow" the wood to make a new pair of clogs. The trouble begins when the rich man catches Batisti and decides to oversee the poor man's punishment.
The Tree of Wooden Clogs is in the tradition of classic Italian neorealist cinema, a genre that reached its zenith with De Sica's 1947 masterpiece The Bicycle Thief. Like that film, Clogs tells a harrowing, bleak story with sweet simplicity and a naturalism that few films have ever dared attempt. The actors are nonprofessionals. While in some films this would be a deterrent, here it is an asset. Because they are played by unknowns, we can accept these individuals much easier. Stars might have made the film a good one, but they would have been nowhere near as effective or startling as the unknown actors.
The film stirred me deeply on an emotional level as the plight of this likable family unfolded over the near three-hour running time. It is one of the few times I have ever found myself overcome with tears. Some jaded individuals might find the tragedies the family undergoes a bit much, but I found the story to be completely real from start to finish.
Koch Vision presents The Tree of Wooden Clogs in a full-frame transfer. There has been some controversy surrounding the quality of this transfer, with some complaining that, aside from not being offered in widescreen, the image is washed out and grainy. Those complaints are unfounded and incorrect. Olmi composed the film for the classic Academy ratio of 1.37:1 or full-frame size. Since Clogs is a throwback to the classic Italian neorealist cinema of the '40s, this is a wholly appropriate choice. While the image is grainy, I do not feel that this is a debit to the overall transfer. The grainy texture is a result of filming in natural light and with cheaper film stocks, so the image is completely organic to begin with. The desaturated color scheme was also an intentional choice on the part of Olmi. Both schemes fit the subject matter like a glove. Taking those facts into account, Koch Vision has done a marvelous job bringing Clogs to DVD and should not be faulted.
Audio is the simple Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix. Again, this is first-rate work by Koch Vision. The mix is crisp and clear. Even though the film is in Italian, one can get a great feel for the passionate performances through the dialogue. Koch offers a clean, vibrant mix that allows the viewer to capture that crucial essence.
The sole extras are the theatrical trailers for The Tree of Wooden Clogs and several other Koch Vision discs. Aspect ratios for the trailers vary from full frame to 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. There is also a photo gallery, but it is difficult to navigate through.
The Tree of Wooden Clogs is a film everyone should see at least once. Over the course of two hours and 57 minutes, it grabs your heart and runs with it. I guarantee that you will be crying by the film's end. If you aren't...well, I feel sorry for you.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 177 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Theatrical Trailer
* Photo Gallery