Everything starts with a look. An old man, Carlo Levi (Gian Maria Volonte, a great actor!), looks at his paintings and through them he looks at his past. On these paintings, there are faces.
Looks and faces play a great part in this movie by Francesco Rosi .
Flash back : it's a painter's look that Carlo casts at the landscapes he drives through, on a bus. It's a documentary maker's look that Rosi casts on this countryside and its people that we are about to discover.
1935. Carlo, an artist and doctor from Torino is under house arrest and exiled in a remote village of Lucany, for political reasons (Italy experiences Mussolini's fascist regime).
Everything opposes Carlo and the village people. It's a bad match : he's an intellectual from the North, they are peasants from the South. He is rational, they are pagan and superstitious. He is politically committed when they deal with nature and its plagues.
It's a motionless journey which begins for Carlo, a fantastic and fascinating journey through a region which is all the more beautiful as nothing is easy and given there. A place where even Christ didn't dare to come. It has nothing to do with the sweet beauty of Tuscany or the postcard aspect of Naples seaside. It is a fierce, lunar countryside of a scaring beauty. It is a primitive landscape which has shaped people to its image. Even Carlo's bedroom looks like a cave, with a theatre of shadows.
First a bit ironical, amused and condescending toward these people, he slowly becomes intrigued, admirative and fascinated by the sheer strength of what he discovers, their rituals, their songs, the way they exorcise their daily sufferings. Life there is a fight against poverty, misery, disease, war, exile. The earth itself is so dry that you often have to wait for the rain to be able to plough it.
The mayor is not part of them. To him they are savages. For the village priest they are heathens, infidels. Both of them don't really see them. They disregard them, look « through » them, bored and uninterested. These people are neglected, forgotten and politically unrepresented. They have no voice, so to speak.
Carlo does look at them and accepts to be looked at, scrutinized. Moreover, not only does he look at them but he represents them by making their portraits. He gives them a picture and they accept to be painted, as well as they accept to be cured by Carlo. Their diseases are their gift.
Far from the stereotype of the typical talkative, gesticulating Italians from The South, far from the touristic documentaries, the movie teachesus to truly look at them. As Carlo who gives painting lessons to children and tells them : « You've got to look closely at everything, a twig, a piece of bread and the air itself. » A real lesson of cinema !
When his sister visits him, she says she can't grasp the irrationality of these people. Carlo replies she first has to know and undertand them. He has lost his superior manners and his certainty has vanished. By becoming poorer he has of course become richer.
Rosi has hired the real people from Lucany. His film focuses on what Bergman regarded as the most important and Ford the most moving : the human face.
Take a tour of Lucany with Carlo and enjoy the ride. A great movie !