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NEW YORK — Despite its title, Davide Ferrario’s documentary is not so much a portrait of the famed author of “Surviving Auschwitz” but rather a sociopolitical portrait of modern Europe, particularly those countries most affected by the collapse of communism. Retracing Levi’s steps on the 10-month journey he undertook upon his release from the concentration camp to his home in Italy, “Primo Levi’s Journey” is a rather unfocused but ultimately provocative portrait of Eastern Europe.
After a Sept. 11-themed prologue set in Manhattan, the film begins, naturally, at Auschwitz, with footage of Levi’s return visit there decades after his release. It then proceeds to segments shot in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. Audio commentary is provided by actor Chris Cooper, reading excerpts of Levi’s memoir “The Truce.”
Necessarily episodic in structure, the film’s chapters vary considerably in their impact. Some are more visually evocative, such as the extensive tour of a shuttered giant Polish steel mill with director Andrezej Wajda leading the way as well as the eerie footage of the ghost city of Prypiat, abandoned since the Chernobyl disaster.
Others are more narrative in form, like the powerful segment devoted to the death of Ukrainian singer Igor Bilozir, murdered by Russian youths in 2000 for singing in his native language.
The film’s outlook is not always hopeful as evidenced by the depictions of the oppressive poverty in countries like Moldova and the neo-Nazi gatherings taking place in modern Germany. But it does present an evocative look at a continent struggling to come to terms with the massive changes engendered by the fall of the Iron Curtain.
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