Christ Stopped at Eboli
An elegy of exile and an epic immersion into the world of rural Italy during the Mussolini years, Francesco Rosi’s sublime adaptation of the memoirs of the painter, physician, and political activist Carlo Levi brings a monument of twentieth-century autobiography to the screen with quiet grace and solemn beauty. Banished to a desolate southern town for his anti-Fascist views, the worldly Levi (Gian Maria Volontè) discovers an Italy he never knew existed, a place where ancient folkways and superstitions still hold sway and that gradually transforms his understanding of both himself and his country. Presented for the first time on home video in its original full-length, four-part cut, Christ Stopped at Eboli ruminates profoundly on the political and philosophical rifts within Italian society—between north and south, tradition and modernity, fascism and freedom—and the essential humanity that transcends all.
The complete 220-minute cut of Francesco Rosi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli is being released for the first time in North America through The Criterion Collection. Initially made for Italian television, the series is presented in its entirety over four episodes on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, with the opening and end credits of each episode still intact. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a recent 2K restoration, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Placing the entire series on one disc with the supplements was probably not the best of ideas, but all things considered the presentation is solid enough. In general, the image looks pretty good and the restoration has cleaned the film up extensively, with only a handful of notable issues popping up; a faint tram line that appears over close-ups over Volonté during the opening moments of the first episode and the concluding moments of the final episode, along with what appears to be a couple of missing frames about 3-hours and 4-minutes in. Otherwise the damage is limited to some minor bits of debris here and there, and the occasional stray hair in the shutter.
The image is sharp, and detail is high, the textures and fine details of the stone buildings of the central village looking good. Long shots also look pretty good, especially of the countryside. Film grain is there, and looks fine enough, but there are plenty of moments where it looks noisy. In bright sequences it looks wellformed, but a filter being applied in the top half of the image a lot of the time, darkening the sky a bit, presents noise around the edges. Darker shots are also a bit noisy, especially some of the day-for-night sequences that pop up.
Colours do lean a cooler most of the time, but it suits the film. Dreary sequences look especially dreary, but brighter day time sequences manage to have more of a warmth to them. Greens, blues, and even the infrequent reds all look nicely saturated. Black levels are also pretty good, though muddy in some of those day-for-night shots and some low-lit interiors. To be fair, the flat blacks are probably more of a byproduct of the low lighting during filming, or the day-for-night process in general, and not something to do with the encode.
In the end I think spreading the series over two discs would have been beneficial and cleaned up the compression issues; the restoration is otherwise impressive.
The film is presented with a lossless 1.0 PCM monaural soundtrack. Dialogue lacks fidelity and in turn comes off flat, but the film’s score sounds rather strong, and is far more dynamic than I would have expected. There is some background noise but the track is clean and free of any pops or drops.
Criterion packs on almost a couple of hours’ worth of material, and compression is a bit more apparent in these features, more than likely to give as much space as possible to the main feature. Criterion first provides a new interview with translator Michael F. Moore, who not only translated the subtitles for this new restoration but also has a personal history with the original novel while also having previously worked with Rosi (he had interpreted for the director). On top of talking about the translation work he did for the film (which was complicated by the dialects used within the film) he also talks about Rosi’s other work, Carlo Levi’s original novel (and his paintings, which appear in the film), Italian cinema at the time, and even briefly about the shorter version of the film, which was cut down for theatrical distribution. It’s a rather solid 27-minute analysis of the film, though I actually ended up kind of wishing he spent more time on the translations and the original novel, which he looks at differently decades after initially reading it.
Criterion then digs up some archival material. There is a 27-minute excerpt from a 1974 episode of Italiques, featuring Rosi and Levi, who had both originally met while Rosi was filming Salvatore Giuliano, apparently hitting it off (Levi had apparently wanted Rosi to make the film version of Eboli based on their meeting). There’s also a 23-minute excerpt from an episode of the French television series Ciné-regards, featuring Rosi, director Elio Petri, and (briefly with very few words) actor Gian Maria Volonté. The episode is specifically about political cinema in Italy, which was reacting to the political climate of the time. Rosi, while in the middle of making Christ Stopped at Eboli, does an on-screen interview explaining his drive to making the film at that moment (he felt it was very timely) and shares his thoughts on political cinema as a whole. Petri does the same, bringing up his film Lulu the Tool, which also starred Volonté. The two also had to make their respective films for television otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to do what they wanted. This leads the two to then talk about the issues that one could run into making a film for a television station (in this case, RAI) that was also run by the State. It's an absolutely fascinating program and it ends up being the best feature on here, capturing a snapshot of the country, its political climate, and the state of the film industry in a short amount of time.
Criterion also includes about 13-minutes' worth of footage from the last interview with Rosi, filmed in 2014. Speaking to Marco Spagnol, Rosi talks about the experience of making Eboli and goes on fondly about Volonté, recalling his professionalism in being fully prepared each day, sharing a story about actor Paolo Bonacelli forgetting his lines to highlight this. The disc then closes with the film’s re-release trailer. The included insert features a short statement about the film from the director, written in 1979, along with a fairly lengthy essay by scholar Alexander Stille, who writes about Levi’s experiences, Rosi’s adaptation of the novel, and how it stands out in the director’s filmography.
Worth noting as well, the main menu only provides the option to play the film from the beginning instead of by episode. To watch a specific episode, you must navigate to the “Chapter” menu and then select the episode from there. Each episode is then divided into its own chapters. The “Timeline” still allows you to jump between the chapters over all of the episodes and is not specific to the episode you’re currently watching.
Missing, of course, is the theatrical version of the film, which I would have been interested in having out of curiosity as I’m having a hard time trying to envision a version of the film that tells its reflective story in a brisk manner; this is my first time with the film and never did see the previous Facets DVD, which presented the short version. As it is, though, it’s a strong collection of features, that one television episode on Italian political cinema being the stand-out.
Though the presentation would have benefitted from a two-disc set, it’s still a nice-looking presentation thanks to the amount of work that went into the restoration. More academic material may have benefitted the supplements, and the shorter theatrical version would have been a nice-to-have, but the supplements included are all solid in their own right.