PRIMO LEVI'S JOURNEY
2007, 92 minutes
Purchase: $195 | Classroom Rental: $95
In the winter of 1945, Primo Levi, one of the century's greatest writers, was liberated from the Auschwitz concentration camp. With the war still underway, he embarked on a thousand-mile journey to his home in Turin, Italy - a strange, beguiling odyssey memorialized in his book, "The Reawakening." Sixty years later, director Davide Ferrario set out to follow in Levi's footsteps. Retracing his historic trip, the film weaves a path through a modern Europe that has both changed and remained eerily the same - from democratic rallies in the East to neo-Nazi demonstrations in the West. Narrated by Academy Award winning actor Chris Cooper, Primo Levi's Journey is a comic, frightening, picaresque road trip through history.
[Click here to open a longer description of Primo Levi's Journey]
In the course of his trip he crossed Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Rumania, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany before finally arriving in Italy. He told the story of his adventures, meetings and observations in another very famous book, "La Tregua" (translated as "The Truce" in Europe, and "The Reawakening" in the U.S.).
Sixty years later, director Davide Ferrario set out to follow the same route through contemporary, post-communist Europe.
The starting point of the trip could not be any other place than Auschwitz. There, we witness the 60th anniversary ceremony asking one central question: what is the meaning of "memory" today?
Then, with the help of Andrzej Wajda, we visit the huge empty steel mill of Nowa Huta, near Crakow, Poland, built by the Communist regime in the fifties. Where once the red flags proudly fluttered, today are only ruins and newly-built churches.
We cross to Ukraine, stopping in L'viv, where the film investigates the mysterious death of Ukraine's national artist Igor Bilozir, murdered in 2000 by Russian-speaking youths because he sang national songs in Ukrainian.
We move further eastwards, passing Zmerenka, where Levi spent long days waiting for a means to get home. We suddenly change direction, heading north to Belarus. After visiting what's left of the Gulag camp of Novograd-Voljinsky, we reach the border.
We enter a world apart. The landscape is beautiful and impressive under the summer sun. But in Belarus nothing has changed much from Soviet times. While filming a collective farm, the crew gets into trouble with the local KGB: the director and the screenwriter are taken away; and when things are cleared through the intervention of the Ministry, the same KGB guy becomes the host of an irresistible "guided tour" of the kolkhoz Billy Wilder style.
Leaving Belarus, we enter Chernobyl's forbidden zone, which spans two sides of the border with Ukraine. We visit the ghost city of Prypiat with a survivor who tells us his moving family story.
The trip moves on southwards. In Kazatin we perceive the atmosphere of Levi's love story with a young Russian girl. In Mogylev-Podilskji, we follow the track of a camel and we meet a touring zoo which seems to come straight out of a Fellini movie. We cross the border into Moldova, the poorest country in Europe.
There, we travel on a bus full of migrants headed to Italy, who tell us why they are forced to leave their country. We get off the bus in Rumania, where we cross the Danube on a row-boat with local fishermen. In Rumania we follow intertwined stories contrasting past and present: a poor Italian family who migrated there at the beginning of the last century and a contemporary Italian entrepreneur, who has come to Rumania because labour and industry costs are cheaper. Stopping in the picturesque village of Curtici, we enter the European Union in Hungary.
We are back in the western world, though more contradictions are waiting for us - like the Chinese today who are running the market where Levi once searched for food... A fast ride takes us through the "Old New Europe": Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Germany.
The mood changes suddenly, mirroring Levi's book. We manage to be invited to a neo-nazi meeting. The contrast between Levi's words and the nazis' faces leaves us speechless. And we reach the end of our trip: Italy, where Levi will find his fortune, but where he will also commit suicide in 1987. Levi's long-time friend, acclaimed writer Mario Rigoni Stern, himself a survivor of the war, is there to give us a final glimpse of hope and dignity.
Subjects & Collections
Festivals & Awards* 2007 Theatrical Release
* Official Selection, Toronto International Film Festival, 2007
* Official Selection, Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival, 2007
* Official Selection, Rome International Film Festival, 2007
* Official Selection, London International Film Festival, 2007
Reviews“Vividly impressionistic and delightfully curious!” Critic’s Pick – Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times
"A startling, beautiful movie! A cinematic, socio-political travelogue, whose music is pitch perfect and which would have been an eloquent critique of current-day Europe even without Levi's prescient ruminations. With them, the film achieves sublimity.” – John Anderson, New York Newsday
“An extraordinary odyssey! A profound meditation on the unevenness of history, reminding us - as Faulkner once remarked - that the past not only isn't dead, it isn't really past at all.” – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
“An illuminating documentary! – Mark Holcomb, Time Out New York
“Primo Levi’s Journey makes a strong impression as a portrait of the halting economic and political transformation of today’s Eastern Europe. Recommended.” - Video Librarian
“A surprisingly uplifting and beautifully mesmerizing documentary! The best documentaries are the most personal, and that’s what Ferrario has accomplished with Primo Levi’s Journey. Instead of simply recounting what Levi experienced, Ferrario creates a new chapter in Levi’s legacy, one worthy of the great Italian writer’s work and experiences.” – Steve Ramos, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“A haunting portrait of how Europe - and the world in general - is still contending with the complicated legacy of twentieth-century conflict. An engaging conversation piece.” – Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine
“Eloquent! In considerable measure, Primo Levi’s Journey succeeds.” – Stanley Kauffman, The New Republic
“A gently moving vision of people and lands struggling to reconcile the past with an uncertain present.” – Jay Weissberg, Variety
“Ferrario, by creating a new narrative just as Levi did, shares common ground with the chemist-memoirist. He tells a modern version of Levi’s tale that is sure to appeal to modern audiences.... Compelling!” – Menachem Wecker, Jewish Press
“For filmgoers who value something fresh and original on the big screen, the documentary delivers.” – Doris Toumarkine, Film Journal International
“Illuminating! A work of poetic inquiry. Recalling the technique pioneered by Claude Lanzmann in Shoah, Ferrario supplants representation. He avoids the standard route of stills and archival footage as easy conduits to stepping back in time. The historical significance, put in specific context, establishes a stronger sense of meaning than any preexisting material.” – Erik Kohn, New York Press
“Fascinating! A haunting and idiosyncratic documentary.” – Miriam Rinn, Jewish Standard