The Truce

(Francesco Rosi, Italy/France/Switzerland/Germany/UK, 1997)


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.


Like 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 Auschwitz survivors making a long and difficult trek home largely on foot is a poignant testament, as steely and tough as it is compassionate and humanist.


The landscape of a new, post-war Europe unfolds before these weary, despairing travellers: a society built on bargains, compromises and signs of the historical amnesia to come. But there is still some room for joy, sensuality and a kind of understanding and forgiveness, however slender.


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.


MORE Holocaust fiction: Life is Beautiful, Schindler's List, Train of Life

© Adrian Martin October 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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