It's often those little moments. What happens while waiting for the train, walking with a girl, sitting at the desk, working your tedious job. Those little things -- they work so beautifullly in Italian filmmaker Ermanno Olmi's maserpiece Il Posto (1961), a film that observes work (“Il Posto" means "The Job") through the orbs of a teenager (the saucer-eyed and touchingly languid non-professional actor Sandro Panseri) entering the work force. Olmi displays those little heartbreaks that lead people to inspiration or desperation with a beguiling combination of warmth and melancholia. An auteur whose attention to the small details of everyday life creates quiet character studies of tedium, irony, hilarity, and sadness, he had a marked quality of making the hum-drum almost fantastical.
Reality depends on how you look at it (after all, what is reality?) and Olmi's aggressively common, poignant depictions can veer into Kafkaesque torture while remaining sweet and perilously hopeful. It's not a surprise then, that that perilously depressing (even potentially suicidal) day, New Year’s Eve, showcases a scene so touching, that you find yourself in a place that moves beyond bittersweet. It's more agonizingly human. And then, just lovely.
After Panseri has conformed at his job (or is understanding that's what his future holds), it’s at at, at first, empy, cold New Year’s Eve party that the tenative teen will finally let loose, surrounded by the dreary commonality of his future. Though he hopes to meet the pretty woman he’s smitten with, he instead enters this rather sterile, flavorless party, and talks to an older couple at a nearby table. As the evening opens up and revelers have downed extra liquids, the shy young man unleashes a joy, perhaps a desperate joy, dancing, smiling, resigned to his sure night of singledom.
The fact that he's momentarily happy, widening his usual placid face with toothy grins and jumping in a circle with other party-goers, makes the sequence all the more heartbreaking. Especially since the New Year brings a new position, as well as a potentially endless life -- he will be staring at the back of his co-worker's head for the rest of the year. I always hope his year will be better. It probably won't, but perhaps his life will. And he should always dance. Especially when the girl doesn't show up.
Happy New Year.