September 14, 2019
1345.) A recent deep-dive into the work of filmmaker Ermanno Olmi led me to one of his finest “late” films, The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1988). This week on the show I’ll be discussing the film (which is available on DVD, one of only five of Olmi’s films to be released on disc in the U.S.). It’s an unusual “fairy tale”-like allegory that explores the nature of luck, faith, and indebtedness. Based on a novel by the Austrian Jewish writer Joseph Roth (who became a Catholic convert in Paris as he also became an alcoholic), it’s a beautifully rendered story of a homeless man (the late, great Rutger Hauer) in Paris who is lent money by a helpful stranger. He is instructed that, when he is solvent, he can leave the amount of the loan at a statue of a St. Therese in a small church. Thus follows a pre-“Groundhog’s Day” motif, wherein the man cannot get to the church at the right time to leave the loan at the statue; as the film goes on, he also encounters a series of benefactors in the first half and malefactors (read: crooks) in the second half. Olmi is a subject of some fascination, due to his having taken the tenets of Italian neorealism to “the next step” – using real locations, non-professional actors (in this film, the supporting cast), and documentary filmmaking techniques in the service of different types of fiction. Holy Drinker is a low-key character study that is also a beautiful silent film at times (with dialogue disappearing for entire atmospheric scenes), which contains one of Hauer’s best performances and a pointed message about the difficulty of ever paying back the people to whom you owe the most.