The Skis of Primo Levi
Levi was a novelist, poet, and essayist, but a person who was also a chemist, a lover of astronomy and the mountains as well as a partisan. The life and thought of Primo Levi cannot be encapsulated inside of the single definition, “witness of the Shoah,” but draw from a great variety of experiences and fields of knowledge. Thirty years after Levi’s death, Rai Cultura, the portal dedicated to culture, and the International Primo Levi Studies Center recalled his many faces in the documentary Gli sci di Primo Levi / The Skis of Primo Levi, broadcast on Sunday April 9 at 7:40 PM on television channel Rai5.
The documentary film, curated by Bruna Bertani and directed by Paola Toscano, progresses along various topic lines while telling the story of the writer through the direct testimony of those who knew him – Anna Bravo, Carlo Ginzburg, Alberto Cavaglion, Piero Bianucci, Giovanni Tesio, Renato Portesi, Liliana Segre, Walter Barberis, Ernesto Ferrero, and Domenico Scarpa. Each of them mingle critical and analytic comments with moving memories. The film sometimes focuses on a single aspect and sometimes on many aspects of Levi’s complex many-faceted nature and helps define the historical, literary, and cultural influence of his thought and works.
The film’s central thread is the story of Ives Francisco, the partisan who was arrested and imprisoned in the mountains of the Aosta Valley with Primo Levi before Levi was deported. His anecdote centered on a pair of skis – those of the title – that Levi left behind, which Ives used in order to flee into Switzerland then return after the war. In relation to each of the topics covered, the words of the people interviewed alternate with the voice of Levi himself. In a selection of materials taken from the television archives, Levi is interviews about topics such as memory, writing, work, his Jewish roots, and his personality. Readings from Levi’s works and a choice selection of images that evoked the Shoah were inserted periodically, giving the story more intensity.
The poem entitled “Unfinished Business” / “Le pratiche inevase” closes the story. This poem is very much like Levi’s spiritual testament. It words are in a voice-over as images of intense closeups of Levi flash by until his peaceful glance fixes us, summoning each of us into a silent dialogue with our conscience. The documentary was shot in Bologna, Turin, Amay and Cogne in Aosta Valley, Milan, and Cuneo, and was produced in collaboration with the International Primo Levi Studies Center.