In 1961, Ermanno Olmi was thirty years old when he made his first feature film though he had been working as a documentary filmmaker since 1953. “Il Posto” is an autobiographical coming of age story about a young man seeking his first job at a large corporation in Milan (we never find out exactly what this company does). The film is a sometimes sad and sometimes touchingly humorous look at young Domenico Cantoni (Sandro Panseri) who comes from a lower working class background having to give up going to school to get a job while his younger brother continued his education. Young Domenico travels from his small town on the outskirts of Milan to the big city to seek employment. He along with other applicants, including a young attractive girl (Loredana Detto) goes through some bizarre pre-employment testing before he is accepted for a position as a messenger.
Young Domenico is introverted but more so he is an observer of the behavior of others, he constantly studies his co-workers manners and the dehumanizing affect pedestrian jobs and bureaucratic bosses have had on their lives. As the film progresses you sense a horror coming over the young man as he comes to realize that staying in this corporate environment his whole life (both his parents and co-workers talk about how fortunate it is to work for the corporation where you have a job for life), there is nothing else to look forward too. They work all day, eat lunch in the company cafeteria and even party together on New Year’s Eve at a company bash where the bandleader announces that the company gives married couples and lovers permission to kiss on the lips come midnight!
The final shot in the film of young Domenico who had to start his career as a messenger because there were no openings in the department he was assigned to has now finally obtained his own desk and a clerical position after the apparent death of a co-worker. As he sits in the back of the office at his newly assigned desk, he looks up; he looks down, and mostly he looks scared! Scared that, my God here is where I will spend the rest of my life working for mindless robotic bureaucrats (shades of Metropolis and The Crowd) if I don’t get out.
Like his protagonist, Ormi worked for ten years at a clerical job and feared the same bleak future until he got a job making documentaries and eventually raising money to make this film. Like DeSica and Visconti, Olmi used no professional actors. Olmi mentions in the accompanying documentary on the Criterion DVD that the young male lead Sandro Paseri, he believes now is working as a manager at a super market and the pretty young girl he had a crush, Loredana Detto, well she is now Mrs. Ermanno Olmi.
“Il Posto” is a simple coming of age story of a young man told with a quiet beauty and small vivid details that are universal in how it unfolds. Olmi’s scenes of Milan are of a major metropolis still rebuilding after the war but anxious to move on into the modern era.