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Lord of the Books: Visit to Umberto Eco’s library

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It sounds like a wanted punchline and yet it is true. The father Giulio Eco in the northern Italian city of Alessandria was a simple accountant – and his son Umberto then became a king of books. As an author, as a university professor, as a huge library owner. And a library secret is known to play a key role in Umberto Eco’s world bestseller The Name of the Rose.

A posthumous but very lively encounter with Eco, who died in 2016 at the age of 84, and with his world of books was presented by Italian director Davide Ferrario at the Rome Film Festival last October. It is the almost 80-minute documentary “La Bibliotheca del Mondo”. The German premiere of this “Library of the World” will take place this Thursday evening in the Italian Cultural Institute in the Embassy in the Tiergarten.

Quite an event, because in addition to the director, Eco’s widow, the German-Italian art historian Renate Range-Eco, and the couple’s daughter and son are also present: for the subsequent discussion with Berlinale boss Carlo Chatrian. The presentation can also be understood as an antipasto for the upcoming Berlinale, where the film would have deserved its place.

Library secret is the subject of “The Name of the Rose”

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Davide Ferrario combined new shots with older documents in suggestive alternation, with eco-interviews and family scenes. At first, the camera follows Eco himself – through many corridors in his Milan apartment, which resembles a labyrinth guarded by bookshelves, paintings and photographs in narrow corridors and wide suites of rooms, halls and studios that open behind corners.

The writer and world scholar Umberto Eco.
© Umberto Eco

There are over 30,000 titles, plus a good 1,500 antique prints, incunabula and unique items. “The books mean the memory of the world,” they contain all realities, right down to magic, says Eco. “They are the past and present without which there is no future.”

Here, too, the plump, bearded world scholar as “uomo universale” is an extremely witty narrator. Eco had started working on television even before he became a renowned semiotician in the 1960s with his classic The Open Work of Art. Understood computers early on, loved and described not only the highly intellectual but also the myths of everyday culture, from the German “Derrick” thriller to comics. But cell phones? “Own, but always on display.” Why? “Because I’m old enough to have the right to be unreachable.” Eco’s library now belongs to the Italian state, but its cinematic image should be seen more often, at least in art house cinemas.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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