PRIMO LEVI’S JOURNEY (A STRADA DI LEVI)
(director/writer: Davide Ferrario; screenwriter: Marco Belpoliti; cinematographers: Gherardo Gossi/Massimiliano Trevis; editor: Claudio Cormio; music: Daniele Sepe; cast: Chris Cooper (Narrator); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Davide Ferraro; Cinema Guild; 2006)
“Left the traumatized Levi’s moving poetical tale out in the cold, as it’s told in such a messy and questionable way to unintentionally diminish Levi’s more striking and dark tale.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Italian filmmaker Davide Ferrario (“After Midnight”) manages to make Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi’s recreated long 1,000 mile train journey home after liberated from the camp, in June 1945, at the end of World War II, a dull sociopolitical affair to see how the European landscape and people changed from sixty years ago. The original train ride home aboard a Russian transit convoy with no seemingly clear destination, was written about in Levi’s memoir “The Truce” and was depicted as a momentous eyeopening and haunting journey for the frail survivor. Narrator Chris Cooper relays Levi’s thoughts about the new world he observes, as he tells how the survivor still sees a world that prefers stupidity to reason.
The recreated journey is taken in 2005, as Ferrario and his camera crew retraces the 10-month journey of the celebrated Italian author (“Surviving Auschwitz,” one of the most haunting books I ever read) and chemist, who arrived in his hometown of Turin, Italy, somewhat shaken that the new world might not be that different from the old. Along the way in this arduous whistle stop tour of Poland, the Ukraine, Belarus, Moldavia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Munich and, finally, Italy, we observe contact with the ordinary current residents of those locations. Though these portraits are unfocused, they nevertheless can stimulate conversation if you consider it’s a comparison the filmmaker is making between citizens under Nazism, Communism and capitalism.
The tour takes us to such places as Krakow’s Nowa Huta district, the site of one of the first centrally planned Soviet cities; At L’Viv, we witness a climate of growing Ukrainian nationalism as the filmmaker interviews the angry wife of slain Ukrainian singer Igor Bilozir, who was beaten to death in 2000 by a Russian musician who objected to the kind of ethnic music Bilozir played in his native tongue; In Belarus, things remain unchanged as we witness the K.G.B menacingly questioning what the filmmakers are doing there; in Romania, we visit women working in a handbag factory that’s owned by an Italian, who moved there to take advantage of the cheap labor; and the darkest moment comes in Munich, when the filmmaker attends a meeting of the Neo-Fascist NPD.
The movie’s arbitrary point is that questions left unanswered from the terrible past will once again have to be answered by future generations. Which might be a good talking point for a sociopolitical college lecture but left the traumatized Levi’s moving poetical tale out in the cold, as it’s told in such a messy and questionable way to unintentionally diminish Levi’s more striking and dark tale.
Levi committed suicide in 1987.
REVIEWED ON 2/16/2010 GRADE: B-