May 7, 2018 / 1:05 PM / a year ago

Humanist Italian film director Olmi dies

FILE PHOTO: Director Ermanno Olmi poses at the 69th Venice Film Festival in Venice September 5, 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

ROME (Reuters) - Ermanno Olmi, one of Italy’s great post-war directors, who won top awards at both the Cannes and Venice film festivals, has died at the age of 86, his family said on Monday.

Olmi was hailed as a humanist moviemaker and a visual poet who once described his own work as being “halfway between the cinema of make believe and the cinema of documentary”.

He won the coveted Golden Palm in Cannes in 1978 for “The Tree of Wooden Clogs”, a three-hour depiction of harsh peasant life in 19th century Italy, with a cast of non-professional actors who all spoke in their native, northern Italian Bergamasque dialect.

It tells the story of a father who secretly cut down a small tree in order to make clogs so his son could walk to school. When the rich landowner found out, he expelled the family from the farm as an example to other workers.

A decade later, he won the Golden Lion at Venice for “The Legend of the Holy Drinker”, which featured well-known actors and followed the tribulations of an alcoholic homeless man in Paris as he sought to repay a debt to a local Church.

Working well into old age, Olmi also made “The Profession of Arms”, released in 2001, which depicted the final days of young renaissance soldier Giovanni De Medici, and the 2014 anti-war movie “Greenery Will Bloom Again”.

“With Ermanno Olmi, we are losing a cinematic master and a great figure of culture and life. His enchanted vision told us about, and made us understand, the roots of our country,” Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni wrote on Twitter.

Olmi said he was inspired by the Italian neorealism movement, which championed working-class heroes and spurned established stars. He carried its traditions forward long after its popularity as an art form had peaked.

Olmi had suffered for many years from a rare autoimmune illness known as Guillain-Barré syndrome. Italian media reported that he was taken to hospital on Friday in his hometown of Asiago and died on Sunday night.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer, editing by Larry King

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