“It’s 1960. The first electronic computer transistor in the world, produced by Olivetti, is about to go into production and prepares to launch into the American market. Adriano Olivetti is in the prime of his life and at his peak of his career, but on the morning of February 27th this adventure stops abruptly. He gets on a train in Switzerland and dies of a heart attack, leaving behind a trail of questions, doubts & regrets. He also left an indelible mark in the history of social, cultural and political life. Michele Soavi directs this acclaimed Italian mini-series, which stars the excellent Luca Zingaretti (of Inspector Montalbano fame) as the radical engineer, politician and entrepreneur.”

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Adriano Olivetti: La Forza Di Un Sogno (‘The Strength of a Dream’) DVD Box Set with …

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A bit of an embarrassing oversight on my part. Still, I have to say it didn’t detract too much from my viewing pleasure, because I already had a vague knowledge of Adriano Olivetti’s life story — plus Italian is such an expressive language you can generally get the gist (if not the detail) of what’s being said.

Prima Parte e Seconda Parte …

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Son of Camillo Olivetti, the founder of the world-renowned business machine empire, Adriano started working as an apprentice in his father’s typewriter factory before pursuing a multi-facetted career as an engineer, politician, publisher, writer, intellectual and industrialist. He was a controversial social reformer who believed that Olivetti’s profits should be reinvested for the benefit of both the company and the local community. Throughout his life, he pioneered new approaches to business and industry while contributing towards the economic restoration of his home country after the Second World War until his untimely death aged only 58.

That’s the factual background – a background the Italians decided to add a splash of colour to.

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The TV movie/mini-series opens with uniformed CIA Agent 519, Karen Bates (Stefania Rocca) typing a report on a Lettera 22 which, don’t get me wrong, is a great way to open a movie, especially if you’re a typewriter nerd, but would an agent of the CIA (even if she was an Italian-American) use a typewriter manufactured by the very company she is spying on?

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Olivetti-CIA subplot thus established, the focus switches to the final moments of Adriano Olivetti’s life as he dies of a heart attack on a train that was to take him to Switzerland. As his life flashes before his eyes, the movie moves into flashback and we’re given a brief glimpse into Adriano’s childhood as his father Camillo sends him to work on the shop floor at the Ivrea factory. At the same time we’re introduced to Adriano’s younger brother, Marcello, and his childhood friend, Mauro Barale.

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Before you can bat an eyelid it’s 1943, Adriano skips his teenage years and moves straight to middle-age. Special agent Laura Bates falls out of the sky over Ivrea (with parachute) and into the arms of Adriano, who then evades the pursuing German soldiers in a night-time chase through the woods,  carrying the injured Laura over his shoulder super-hero style (no evidence of a heart condition at this stage) before hiding her from the Nazis in the basement of his father’s Olivetti mansion.

You can understand the producers and the director wanting to make the plot more exciting for those viewers (let’s say 99% of them) who weren’t typewriter nerds, but this was nonsensical and far-fetched, and not helped by the fact that spoken Italian as well as Italian-looking actors were used for subsequent “Washington” CIA scenes.

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Incidentally, the director Michele Soavi is the grandson of Adriano Olivetti. His father, Georgio, worked for Olivetti for more than 30 years. So you’d think he might have approached the assignment with a bit more seriousness.

To be fair though, it seems Adriano did have some contact with British S.O.E. operatives during the war, and did help people to emigrate and escape the Nazis, so it could be argued the whole secret agent thing is loosely (very loosely) based on fact. It’s also likely the CIA had an interest in keeping tabs on Olivetti —a global company led by an avowed socialist, and this at a time when the Americans were striving to forestall the rise of communism in countries like Italy and Greece.

But I digress. Back to the plot:

Being both Jewish and and anti-fascists, the Olivetti family are in danger. The children are packed off to Fiesole, a town in the hills above Florence in Tuscany and Adriano takes refuge in Switzerland. Elderly family patriarch Camillo remains in the family home in Ivrea, but dies within the year.

When the war ends Adriano takes the reins of the company, continues the modernisation of the Ivrea factory and embarks on his plans for industrial and social reform — plans that are resisted by the powerful Dalmasso (Francesco Pannofino) owner of several typewriter factories in Italy’s North.

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Dalmasso attempts to bribe Adriano’s childhood friend and right-hand man, Mauro Barale, but his overtures are rejected (initially at least).

Adriano’s marriage to Paola (Francesca Cavallin) the beautiful mother of his three children, is on the rocks after she admits to being in love with another man (gist).

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Adriano fails to gain the support of his family when it comes to the social and industrial reforms he wants to put in place, so he leaves his younger brother, Marcello, in charge of the Ivrea plant and moves into the Canavese — a sub-alpine region in North-west Italy. It is here that Adriano puts the first of his planned community projects into practice …

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… and where he meets Grace (Elena Radonicich)

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It’s love at first sight!

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Adriano fixes Grace’s Lettera 22 and the next thing you know they’re enjoying a picnic …

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Adriano is also invited. His happiness is interrupted, however, when Marcello dies suddenly and the family asks him to return to Ivrea.

On his return, Adriano sets about transforming the business. He poaches a young and brilliant engineer, Libero, from one of Dalmasso’s rival typewriter companies, and sets about hiring the best designers in the land. One of his interviewees is a disturbed young woman, Teresa (Serena Rossi), who flees the interview.

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Teresa leaves her handbag behind in Adriano’s office whereupon Adriano finds a drawing which inspires him to hire her …

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Whether this is based on a real-life incident I don’t know, but the Lettera “bag lady” design is certainly real.

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I seem to remember Ton S (I dream lo-tech) did a write-up of this movie and provided a video link of the conveyor belt scene as Lettera 22s trundle off the production line for the very first time …

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This is, of course, one of the highlights of the movie.

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Libero (Domenico Diele) and his bellissimo bambino

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Needless to say, the release of the Lettera 22 is a huge success …

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A romance blossoms between Libero and Teresa …

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Even when Libero shows up on her doorstep with a pet rat!

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The romance between Adriano and Grace resumes …

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And Karen Bates, without any love interest to speak of, reappears on the scene, ostensibly to write a book, but secretly to spy on Adriano.

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In Seconda Parte (“Part Two”, see Italian’s not that difficult) Adriano hunt ‘n pecks at the keys of a Lettera 22 …

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And Karen’s back behind hers, but out of uniform and out of sorts …

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The subplot gets even more ridiculous when, in a sequence reminiscent of The Lives Of Others, we see a tearful Karen and her CIA pals eaves-dropping on an Olivetti Christmas Party …

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Moved by Adriano’s philanthropic deeds, Karen eventually refuses to denounce him in front of her CIA bosses and ends up being replaced by another operative.

Adriano marries Grace, but there are clouds on the horizon: Mauro Barale betrays Adriano and defects to the Dalmasso camp.

It’s touch and go for a while as Adriano fights off an aggressive takeover bid, but eventually he prevails and Olivetti goes from strength to strength. The film ends where the flashback started, with the death of Adriano Olivetti on a train that was to take him to Switzerland.

Before Adriano boards the train he’s hit on the back by an orange thrown by youths celebrating the Ivrean festival of The Battle of the Oranges. An apologetic young man approaches Adriano and pats him down. It’s bizarre, and just one of several devices used to depict Adriano’s death in such a way as to suggest that there were mysterious circumstances, even foul play.

A more telling moment for me, was the moment at Adriano’s funeral when Adriano’s young widow, Grace, hands the wristwatch that was passed down from Camillo to Adriano, to Dino Olivetti

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Poor Dino accepts the watch as if it’s a poisoned chalice …

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… as if he knows (as we do) he’s next in line for more than just a wrist watch.

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Eerily, the ghost of Adriano is an onlooker at his own funeral …

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I know — Spooky!

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