EBOLI -- At the Outer Circle 1.
Billed simply as "Eboli," the Italian film of Carlo Levi's book "Christ Stopped at Eboli" sounds like a travelogue. And it does turn out to be a travelogue an unusual and interesting one, although not of Eboli.
The original title, subject to misunderstanding in the English translation, does not refer to Christ's stay in Eboli, but to his not having traveled just a little farther, to the remote mountain town Lucania, where Levi, an anti-Fascist, was sent as a political prisoner before World War II. Lucania thus represents the eternal peasant's hard, prmitive life, untouched even 2,000 years ago by glory or change.
It was a peculiar form of town-arrest Levi was under. The conditions were merely that he live in the town, signing in every morning to prove it, and not speak to the few other political exiles. The townspeople treated him with friendly respect, and when the war began, he was freed.
The autobiographical film hero is a non-practicing doctor whose ambition is to become a painter. Through the demands of the townspeople, he wins the right to treat their ills, but he also has ample leisure time to paint and an abundance of picturesque subject matter.
Francesco Rosi's film version shows only the exterior of this man's life. We really know nothig of his inner turmoil, political or personal. Gain Maria Volonte, who plays Levi, maintains the impassive face of the observer and even in his soliloquies remains aloof. There is a whiff of a sexual possibility between him and his vibrant houskeeper, played by Irene Papas, but even that doesn't change his expression.
Thus the chief interest of the film is what he sees: the crudely beautiful and durable life of the eternal peasant. One keeps hearing of a magical land away from Lucania, "America," where villagers go, some nerver to return, but it has no reality beside the unchainging daily hardship.
This is fascination enough, provided one has not expected a socio-political drama. Seeing the interiors of the ancient hilltop houses, hearing explanations of their customs and superstitions, the viewer sees what the hero sees, instead of what he feels.
So instead of pitying his plight as an exiled freedom-lover, one envies him as an artist who has succeded in making that much-sought discovery -- a marvelous little untouched village, where none of the tourists go.