De Sica characters in Antonioni's world -- Ermanno Olmi's films illustrate the paradox of behaviorist artists in a mechanized age. The opening is a cheerless ballroom filling up with unsmiling couples, a dozen shades of gray and a tinkling piano tune as the titular fiancÚs, Carlo Cabrini and Anna Canzi, nurse their tension at one of the tables. The grim mock-gaiety of the dance hall is an extension of the mortified New Year's company party at the end of Il Posto, but Cabrini, some ten years older than that picture's larvae-hero, is only now about to enter the dislocated dronedom of booming industrialization: engaged for years, the two see their future threatened by separation when welder Cabrini gets a promotion and a plane ticket to Sicily for a year. First night away brings refinery fires burning in the distance, a sterile hotel room, supper in an empty hall with an exhausted waiter; then plenty of time for him to take in windmill repairs and children's singing at church interrupted by a wandering dog. Time gets compressed for the confetti of street festivities or stretched for a late-night prank with his colleagues, only to be punctured by glimpses of Olmi's delicate temporal ellipsis, an aged father stashed away at a home or happy times with his beloved in earlier occasions. Olmi's feel for the dwarfing long-shot can be as limpid as Antonioni's, yet emotion throbs still within his dwellers, even amid a ruthless shift to depersonalized times -- the couple's song circles within Cabrini even at a distance, the better for the filmmaker to drop his reticence and conjure up emotional transcendence worthy of Borzage or McCarey for the magical last stretch. The montage of the reading of the letters is musical, the rhythms of memories unclogged for a telepathic connection, Cabrini and Canzi brought face to face by the pure force of their feelings. Faced by their personal lyricism, alienating modernity gets trumped, and even the storm forming just outside the phone booth can't overcast the couple's bonding iridescence. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce