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Italian director Ermanno Olmi, ’78 Palme d’Or winner, dies

Ermanno Olmi
The Associated Press

ROME (AP) — Ermanno Olmi, an Italian cinematic giant who won the top award at the Cannes Film Festival for his depiction of 19th- century Italian farm life in “The Tree of Wooden Clogs,” has died at age 86.

Olmi died Monday in the northern Italian city of Asiago, where a day of mourning has been planned for his funeral, Mayor Roberto Rigoni Stern told the ANSA news agency.

Condolences poured in from across Italy’s political and cultural spectrum for the director, with President Sergio Mattarella praising Olmi’s exploration of simple folk and Italy’s transition from a poor agrarian country to a post-war industrial power.

“Olmi gave voice to a peasant civilization by going back to its origins, honoring the feelings of simple people and places where nature meets man,” Mattarella said.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini praised Olmi’s career as one of “poetry,” that explored the relation between man and nature, work and spirituality.

Olmi’s “L’Albero degli Zoccoli” (“The Tree of Wooden Clogs”), about life on a Lombardy farm at the end of the 19th century, won the 1978 Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2008, he was honored with a Career Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Born in 1931 in the throes of fascism, Olmi watched firsthand with dismay as Italy’s countryside emptied out and Italians flocked to growing cities. He chronicled his own life in his 2013 autobiography “The Apocalypse and a Happy Ending.”

Olmi didn’t only work behind the camera — he also directed several operas for the La Scala opera house in Milan, which mourned him on Monday.

“The figure of a complete artist and intellectual disappears with Olmi’s passing,” La Scala said.

Olmi is survived by his wife, Loredana, and children. The funeral was expected to be private.

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