Film Scouts Interviews

John Turturro on "La Tregua (The Truce)"

by Richard Schwartz

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John Turturro stars as an Auschwitz survivor returning to Italy after the war in director Franceso Rosi's new adaptation of Primo Levi's autobiographical "La Tregua" ("The Truce"). The film, an official selection appearing in competition at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, traces Levi's experiences while traveling back to Turin and, along the way, coping with the realities of trying to reclaim his own shattered dignity. Film Scouts sat down with Turturro, a former Golden Palm acting award winner for "Barton Fink," to discuss "The Truce."

FS: You've made films with some storied directors - Spike Lee, the Coens - but that was all early in their respective careers. Describe the experience of working with such a storied visionary as Francesco Rosi.

JT: Sensibilitywise, it was one of the best experiences I've ever had in life working with a director... I've rarely had a closer [relationship] with a director. There were a lot of things I felt very at home with. He had a very rigorous approach. He's really influenced a lot of directors, especially Oliver Stone. But I like Rosi's work much better.

FS: Speaking about the importance of this film's subject, there has been a great deal of renewed interest in the Holocaust, with much new information coming out now and two festival films ['Bent' is the other] dealing with the subject. Why are we now beginning to take a closer look at this period again?

JT: It's an event that changed the century. How we think, everything, has been affected by it. The past has to inform the present... It's been now 50, 52 years [since the end of the war]. And they've been making films about this ever since the war, right after the war. 'Waiting for Godot' was directly influenced by it... There's a line in Levi's book that says, 'war is always.' For these people [in the film], what makes life valuable and worth living was demolished. These were people who were demolished, intellectually as well as physically. They lost all shred of dignity. The level of shame was in an endless process. And it took place in the heart of civilization with architecture and planning. It was an event that changed the century. So, yes, it's very relevant.

FS: This is different than most pieces dealing with the subject of the Holocaust because you speak about the aftermath...

JT: I think you learn more from looking at how things occurred and what happened afterward, not just at the event... This is saying, how do you begin again, return, learn how to eat again and communicate again. It's a thing in your mind that will always be with you. Some people don't like to talk about it, some people have to. Levi was implored to tell the story... and he was able to do it in a way that lets you be the judge. He can penetrate to levels I've rarely experienced as a reader.

FS: Primo Levi did have a very personal, yet not over-the-top, style of writing...

JT: Levi is one of the best authors I've ever read. It's hard not to have an immediate personal response to his work. He has such a quiet tone that he brings you to the material as close as humanly possible.

FS: You had two films ['Box of Moonlight' and 'Grace of My Heart'] at the Venice Film Festival, but you didn't want to talk to the press then. Was that because you had just finished 'The Truce?'

JT: It was such a long journey that I'd lost my ability to censor things. My mother kept saying, 'You're not the same.' Imagine the people who went through the experience. They're still not ever the same.

FS: What's upcoming for you, perhaps another shot at directing?

JT: I'll be directing 'Illuminata,' a structurable farce about a theater company at the turn of the century. There's going to be a large cast, my wife will be in it, Susan Sarandon will be in it. It's a love story, about how hard it is to have a long relationship. In interviews like this, people always ask me how do you do this and how do you do that. So instead of telling people, I'd love to show people what actually that is in a very entertaining way and tell it as a story... [Film Scouts correspondent] Henri Behar will also have a role in the film.

FS: Thank you, Mr. Turturro.

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