It is always sad when once great filmmakers slowly, over the years, lose their special touch. Their work may still be grave, grand and dramatically solid, but one misses the sensual immediacy, the closeness to detail, that previously brought their films alive. Worst of all, their movies become the official art of their home countries: duly honoured, respected and exported, but rarely loved.
Andrzej Wajda, Volker Schlöndorff and Jiri Menzel, Francesco Rosi (Hands Over the City, 1963, Carmen, 1984) has, over the past decade,
entered this sad state of decline. The
Truce, adapted from Primo Levi's novel, is a project obviously close to
Rosi's heart. This story of
landscape of a new, post-war
As Primo, Jon Turturro gives the finest performance of his career to date. His words and gestures are controlled and terse, hinting at fires of emotion within. In part, this is a tale of the return to life by Primo and his comrades: a rediscovery of the human body, sexual intimacy and the splendour of nature. Turturro conveys, in a quietly majestic fashion, the pain and pleasure of such a rediscovery.
In The Truce, the drama of survival – physical and psychological – is largely a male drama. Women figure fleetingly in the story as idealised projections of beauty or decadence that the men must either embrace or reject in order to re-win their dignity. This bias may be faithful to the film's source material, but it still irksome.
The greater problem with Rosi's movie is its cerebral, almost academic rendering of such a passionate episode in personal and political history. It can strike us as worthy, important, even stirring in a lofty way; but Rosi seems very far from the small, vital sensations which form its true core. His gaze is too distant, too severe, too scholarly – and that lessens what could have been one of the great reflections in cinema on the legacy of the Holocaust.
© Adrian Martin October 1997