The movie Christ Stopped at Eboli was originally released in the United States in 1983 and won the 1983 BAFTA for Best Foreign Film. It made its world premiere in 1979.
Writer, painter, doctor, and member of a group of anti-Fascist intellectuals in Turin, Carlo Levi is arrested and sentenced to internal exile for his political activism. One day in 1935, after an interminable ride from northern Turin deep into the instep of southern Italy, to a region so abject that even Christ has forsaken it, Levi arrives in Gagliano in the region of Lucania, isolated at the top of a desolate hill.
The trip has been long and tiring — first, a train to Eboli, then a bus, then an old car along winding roads which lead into a world outside of history. A dog, Barone, follows him from the Eboli train. He takes lodgings in a widow’s home, then goes to the town square and registers with the mayor, Don Luigino, who warns him not to contact any of the other ten exiles in the village. That evening, Levi shares his room with a tax collector passing through the village. From him, Levi learns of the state of misery and exploitation in which the country people live. The next day, Levi is surrounded by a horde of women and children who have heard that he is a doctor. He futilely protests that he has never practiced medicine. To better acquaint himself with the place in which he must spend his exile, he takes a walk and thus comes to understand the strange isolation of this village where emigration creates stronger ties with far away American than with Italy or the government in Rome. It is in the explanation of Don Trajella, the village priest, that he finds the justification for this flight from a place where life is impossible and where the houses, the church, even the surrounding hills, are victims of a process of disintegration which nothing seems able to arrest. The months pass. The seasons change. His circle of acquaintances grows. Through Don Luigino, he hears echoes of the preparations for war against Abyssinia. Turin seems farther and farther away, farther away than India or China. His sister is authorized to visit him for a few days. Her arrival revives him.
Finally, he can confide in someone. He can talk about what he has learned here. He explains to her that this region is dominated by the petty bourgeoisie who are forced to exploit the peasants because there are no other means of survival. Even when represented by the debonair Don Luigino, the mayor, the petty bourgeois is, in fact, a victim of his own ferocious and atavistic prejudices which make them the easy prey of fascism. His sister listens to him and encourages him to do more than observe and paint. Thus inspired, he changes his life. He decides to practice medicine in spite of opposition from local authorities. He finds a more practical abode. A peasant woman, Giulia, who has had 17 children with 17 different men and is thus the only woman in town who can enter the house of a single man, becomes his cleaning lady. Her folk tales and superstitions reveal the rich and magical imagination of these people of the region.
In this lost corner of Italy, he discovers a life, a civilization, a humanity with which he establishes a deep rapport that will come to transform him. It’s here that he learns the meaning of suffering, resignation, and tragedy. Here, he perceives the great weight of secular injustice and the origins of this injustice. Here, he develops a political consciousness which will lead him to fight to overcome the gap between these two Italies which have always existed: that of the disinherited, those who live on the fringe of society, and that of those who, to survive, must exploit and deny the other.