Saturday, September 1, 2007

"What is the Italian for mensch?"

The very name of Primo Levi stops the heart. Affection then floods in, because, of all Holocaust survivors, he is among the closest--through his books, his darkly humane books. When Irving Howe reviewed one of Levi's books, the last line of that review was "What is the Italian for mensch?" Many of us shared the question.Levi was liberated from Auschwitz in January 1945 and, with some other Italians, headed for home. No transportation was provided, and it took more than eight months, with wanderings toward and away from Italy, before he reached his home city, Turin. Years later, he wrote an account of this journey, called in Italy La Tregua (The Truce), because those eight months seemed like an interlude in the world's growlings, between the end of World War II and whatever was coming next. The book was published here as The Reawakening. Just to twist matters further, when Francesco Rosi made a film of it in 1997, he went back to The Truce as his title.
Rosi's film was fiction, with John Turturro as Levi, and, earnest though it was, it never reached the essential gravitas. Now, on the twentieth anniversary of Levi's death, an Italian film-maker named Davide Ferrario presents Primo Levi's Journey. This is not a version, in fiction or otherwise, of Levi: it is the chronicle of a journey made by Ferrario and his co-screenwriter Marco Belpoliti as they followed, figuratively, Levi's footsteps from Auschwitz to Turin. They mean to show us, as far as is tenable, the Europe that today supplants the one through which the Auschwitz survivor made his way. The intent is unavoidably ironic, and in considerable measure it succeeds.(more by Stanley_Kauffmann from New Republic)
For more posts on Primo Levi click here and here

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