In what might be the weirdest entrant ever into the road-trip movie genre, director Davide Ferrario and his crew have hit the (dirt) road to meticulously retrace Primo Levi’s long trip home from Auschwitz. On his way back to Turin after World War II, the Italian writer-chemist passed through Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Austria, a 10-month odyssey that he described in his 1969 memoir,
The Truce. Despite this seemingly linear set-up, Ferrario emphatically eschews conventional narrative in favor of abstract collage: He combines lingering shots of modern Eastern Europe with flashes of Soviet propaganda and improbable narration by the character actor Chris Cooper, whose Southern twang stands out against the Belorussian landscape like a biscuit on a plate of blinis. The result is as drugged-out as anything the Merry Pranksters ever thought up. But while the filmmakers are gleefully unearthing proof that life in post-Soviet Moldova sucks, Levi himself falls by the wayside:
Primo Levi’s Journey is almost willfully opaque about the actual circumstances of Primo Levi’s journey. Who exactly was this man we’re meant to be paying homage to, and why did it take him so long to get home?