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Ermanno Olmi's 185-minute study of peasant life in turn-of-the-century Italy (1978) is rich with incident but thin on ideas—less an advance over the standard film festival peasant epic than an unusually accomplished rendition of it. The characters and situations are oppressively familiar; Olmi's wide-eyed, wondering point of view helps to freshen them, but not enough to overcome completely the Marxist sentimentalism inherent in the concept. I found the film most successful when it left its tenant farm setting for a lovely, lyrical boat trip to the big city, the one moment of expansiveness in Olmi's otherwise hermetic narration. Still, the film is consistently engaging and suggestive, though it never explodes into the masterpiece it's clearly intended to be. In Italian with subtitles.

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