Review: 'The Truce' shows difficulties even in Holocaust's end
Tuesday, June 2, 1998
From Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- In the past 25 years or so, there've been many films covering the horrors of the Holocaust, but the vast majority of them have been documentaries (check out Marcel Ophüls' "The Sorrow and the Pity" and Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah," for brilliant starters). Art Spiegelman, the creator of the much-honored Holocaust-based cartoon novel, "Maus," has complained in the past that the inhumanity of the concentration camps isn't something that can survive the transition to narrative film.
I'm not sure I agree, but you have to admit that such incomprehensible pain and cruelty is a difficult thing to convey through the play-acting of a bunch of performers dressed up in period costumes. Except in rare cases (the first two acts of "Schindler's List," for example), the artifice of the form cheapens very real suffering.
"The Truce," Francesco Rosi's adaptation of "The Reawakening," Primo Levi's survivor's memoir, is a solid attempt, featuring a fine, understated performance from the usually far more gregarious John Turturro. But as a whole, the final product somehow left me surprisingly unmoved.
The story deals with Levi's circuitous journey back to his home in Turin after the Russian army liberates Auschwitz, and the incident doesn't lend itself to narrative pull. The interesting part of the journey takes place more inside Levi's head than on the ravaged landscape before him, a situation that's pretty obviously better suited to the written page than a movie screen.
I don't believe I've ever seen a film that deals with this aspect of surviving the camps, and I thought I would get wrapped up in it far more than I did. You don't often consider it, but once those gates were pulled down by the liberators, there were thousands of sick, malnourished, and often dying people who had to somehow find their way back to their families and homes, if in fact any of those things still existed. And there wasn't enough food.
Levi wound up on a less-than-planned journey aboard trains that suddenly have to be stopped or re-routed, while periodically scavenging food and taking shelter in "displaced persons" camps run by the Russians. Levi's attempts to reassimilate himself trigger the occasional eloquent moment, but there's also a lot of wandering, and Turturro remains practically mute throughout the story.
Flashes of emotion
Some of those moments are quite moving, though. My favorite comes in one of the d.p. camps. The Russians are celebrating the coming end of the war, and have decided to put on a stage show of sorts for themselves and their psychically wounded guests. Everyone gathers in a large barracks as music is played and one soldier dances a rather graceful Fred Astaire routine to the strains of "Cheek to Cheek," which is being played on a scratchy record.
Slowly, the camp survivors begin shooting glances back and forth, men and women eyeing each other with something more than suffering in their hearts for the first time in years. Eventually, couples pair up and slowly dance to the song, their humanity returning like a healing warmth after a brutal, near-endless winter.
There are also some entertaining supporting performances, especially from Rade Serbedzija, a Greek survivor who teaches Primo the importance of a good pair of shoes, among other lessons. But there just isn't a linear sequence of events to hold the story together. Primo is lost, slowly regaining his hope, but we only periodically sense the discoveries. His pain paralyzes not only his voice, but the movie as a whole.
"The Truce," is, of course, a sometimes difficult story to handle. There are relatively few actual flashbacks to the camps themselves, but there are more than enough moments of horror to go around. Overall, though, it's more about hope than despair. Rated R. 116 minutes.
Back to the top
© 2000 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.