A subtle, absorbing evocation of rustic Italian life at the turn of the century, this film follows three peasant families over the course of a year, as they dutifully work the estate grounds of a seldom-seen landlord. Though the work is thankless and backbreaking, they all share a unique bond that keeps them from sinking into despair. One young boy, Minek (Brignoli), even attends school, which he walks to every day. But when his father Batisti (Ornaghi) cuts down a tree to fashion the boy a new pair of wooden clogs, he pays a terrible price.
One of Olmi's greatest accomplishments, "Clogs" is a sensitive, verité-style drama that unfolds at a leisurely pace, with indelible, naturalistic performances by the entire cast of non-professional actors. Olmi based the film on stories his grandmother recalled about growing up in Lombardy, and the subtle power of this film comes from the calm, unforced manner in which he portrays lives of drudgery and sacrifice. Some scenes stick in the mind, like an old-timer regaling villagers with a ghost story, or a honeymoon trip to Milan on an old barge. Give "The Tree of Wooden Clogs" time to blossom, and you'll reap the rewards.