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Film

Al Pacino’s favourite film is a neglected classic

@SamWKemp

There are few actors more intertwined with the legacy of American cinema than Al Pacino. After graduating from the Actors Studio, where he was taught by pioneering practitioner Lee Strasburg, Pacino bagged the role of Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film The Godfather, a break that sparked an illustrious career spanning over 50 years and countless iconic roles in films as diverse as the 2011 Adam Sandler Comedy Jack and Jill and the 1984 cult drama Scarface.

Those films may have made his name, but what of the movies that defined his taste? Fans have been trying to pin down the actor’s ‘must watch’ list for decades, but he’s tended to be fairly coy about revealing it. Thankfully, he let slip one of his all-time favourite films when he was caught off-guard by a reporter for the American Film Insitute in 2009: “I have… five or six movies I really think are the greatest,” Pacino said during a red carpet interview. “I always liked The Tree of Wooden Clogs.

Released in 1978, The Tree of Wooden Clogs is one of the most shamefully neglected pieces of Italian cinema to emerge from the neorealist movement. Director Ermanno Olmi’s tale of 19th-century farming life focuses on four families working for the same landowner on an estate in the province of Bergamo. Utilising neorealist techniques, he totally immerses the viewer in these families’ pastoral way of life as they navigate the changing seasons that underpin an ever-spinning cycle of birth, marriage and death.

Olmi’s sensitivity to these now-lost communities is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Although he pays keen attention to the families’ intimate relationship with nature, he never romanticises it, always paying attention to the impact of a life toiling in the fields and the overbearing feudalism of the landowners. Like the great neorealist directors, Olmi enlisted local and untrained people as his actors, allowing them the opportunity to step into the shoes of their ancestors and speak in their native dialects in locations that were also their homes.

The overall result is a film at once funny, intensely beautiful, and deeply moving. As it progresses, there is a sense that Olmi has succeeded in reviving the spirit of a long-forgotten way of life that now only exists in the form of traditions passed down through the generations. Grand in scope and graceful in delivery, The Tree of Wooden Clogs is certainly a film you should add to your watchlist.