Ermanno Olmi, Palme d'Or-Winning Director of 'The Tree of Wooden Clogs,' Dies at 86

Elisabetta A. Villa/WireImage
Ermanno Olmi

The Italian helmer was "one of the last of the great filmmakers of the '60s," Martin Scorsese says.

Ermanno Olmi, the master Italian neorealist director who received the Palme d'Or from the Cannes Film Festival in 1978 for The Tree of Wooden Clogs, has died. He was 86.

Olmi died Saturday in Asiago, Italy, a hospital spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter. No cause of death was given. 

"With Ermanno Olmi we lost a master of cinema and a great example of culture and of life. His enchanted gaze told us and made us understand the roots of our country," Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni tweeted Monday. 

Olmi's body of work is revered within the film industry. His 1961 coming-of-age drama Il Posto exposed the dehumanizing nature of the corporate workplace and included the only screen performance of Loredana Detto, whom Olmi would marry two years later. 

The Tree of Wooden Clogs told the story of peasant life in the 19th century, with all the parts played by non-actors. The story was based on his grandmother's written memories, which Olmi rediscovered after he moved his family from Milan to the Dolomite Foothills in Northern Italy in the 1970s.

"The peasant world that I was reproducing in my film and which still shows its traces in Asiago was concerned with one and perhaps only one thing in particular, and that was a relationship with the land," he said in an interview on the Criterion Collection release. "It was a relationship that simply consisted of asking the land to give what was needed for living." 

Olmi was born July 24, 1931, in Treviglio, Italy. While in Milan, he enrolled at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, and his early work focused on documentaries. 

His subsequent work included Walking, Walking (1983); Long Live the Lady! (1987), which won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival; and the Gold Lion-winning The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1988), starring Rutger Hauer.

The Venice fest awarded Olmi a career Golden Lion in 2004, but he refused it. "I didn't want to put the bookmark at the end of my career yet," he said. "I said I still had feature films to make." He finally accepted the accolade four years later.

In a statement, Martin Scorsese called Olmi "one of the last of the great filmmakers of the '60s."

"I will never forget the first time I saw his pictures Il Posto and [1963's] I Fidanzati, which were released around the same time in the United States but made two years apart. I was truly astonished by both, and I went back to see them again and again. Their effect on me and on so many others of my generation and after, from all over the world, was incalculable.

"Olmi remained an absolutely individual artist, from those early pictures to the remarkable Tree of Wooden Clogs all the way up to the wild freedom of the last films, like Singing Behind Screens and One Hundred Nails. I will miss Olmi the artist and Olmi himself, because he was as warm and human as his pictures."

Olmi is survived by his wife and their three children, Fabio (a cinematographer), Elisabetta (a producer) and Andrea.