Cammina, Cammina | Chicago Reader

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Emboldened by the critical and commercial success of The Tree of Wooden Clogs, Italian director Ermanno Olmi indulged himself with this 1982 epic about the journey of the Magi to witness the birth of Christ. Like the earlier film, it was shot in Olmi's native Lombardy and cast entirely from the local peasantry, and the opening sequence shows the players preparing for a religious pageant as an announcer explains the film's naturalistic premise over a public-address system (shades of Altman's M*A*S*H). But here the combination of rural authenticity and minimal narrative, so effective in Olmi's best work, backfires: centuries removed from the story, the amateurs playing the three wise men and their followers become more a burden than an asset, and the long march to Bethlehem bogs down in a series of trials that test the pilgrims' faith—and the audience's patience. The script offers provocative flashes (when the pilgrims return home, leaving Jesus unprotected from Herod's slaughter, one of them tells a magus, “From now on in your temples you'll celebrate only his death!”), but they're overwhelmed by Olmi's piety. In Italian with subtitles. 150 min.

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