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Second Time Around 

Wednesday, Mar 26 1997
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Christ Stopped at Eboli
Francesco Rosi's adaptation of Carlo Levi's famous memoir is a secular miracle -- the director's masterpiece and a stunning introduction to his body of work (it's an opening-weekend attraction at the Pacific Film Archive's Rosi retrospective). Working from Levi's book, Rosi achieves a Roots for white Western civilization. It was in 1935 that Levi, a painter, doctor, and writer, served a term as a political prisoner in the arid Lucania region of southern Italy. Rosi and his co-writers (Tonino Guerra and Raffaele La Capria) have shaped Levi's poetic, discursive account both to tell the story of his growing bond with the peasants in Mussolini's equivalent of Siberia, and to express the deep rhythm of their lives. Time exists for these peasants not as a measure for transacting business, not even as an expression of the seasons, but as a drop in the well of eternity. Despite the area's barrenness the atmosphere is vivid and changeable -- Pasqualino de Santis captures the landscapes (and skyscapes) with such richly textured cinematography that you find yourself "reading" every shift in the soil or passing cloud as an omen. And Gian-Maria Volonte, who plays Levi, captures the writer's unsentimental passion and intelligence. He doesn't idealize the peasants, he loves them, and his complete acceptance of their customs and beliefs keeps us off-balance. We may be charmed by the notion that unbaptized children haunt the world as playful gnomes, and then shocked when Levi's cleaning woman -- acted by the formidable Irene Papas -- appears to welcome a slap he gives her either as a sign of sexual attention or as a show of absolute force.

-- Michael Sragow

Christ Stopped at Eboli screens Sunday, March 30, at 5:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive, 2626 Durant (at College) in Berkeley. Tickets are $5.50; call (510) 642-1124.

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Michael Sragow

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