Reel Life: Flick Pix
Lovely film’s old-fashioned values are clear-eyed about its charismatic working-class hero
By Nora Lee Mandel
Directed and Written by Alex Camilleri
Produced by Rebecca Anastasi, Ramin Bahrani, Alex Camilleri, and Oliver Mallia
Malta. 95 mins. Not Rated
In Maltese with English subtitles
With: Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna, and Uday McLean
Kino Lorber release: October 15, 2021 in art house theaters in NYC; October 22 in Los Angeles; October 29 in Winston-Salem, NC and Vancouver, BC; November 5 in Philadelphia, PA and Pelham, NY; November 12 in Portland, OR; November 17 on Kino Marquee Virtual Cinema
(Streamed at 2021 New Directors/New Films of Film at Lincoln Center/MoMA)
Beautiful looking and thoughtfully substantive, Luzzu is: universal, yet particular to a corner of Europe not seen on screen; authentic to tradition, yet plugged into contemporary issues of European Union (EU) regulations and migrants; vividly fresh, yet steeped in cinematic history.
Filmmaker Alex Camilleri is passionate about bringing his family’s home country of Malta to the fore from its usual role as an anonymous Hollywood backdrop. Prickly Pear (Bajtra Tax-Xewk), his charming short shown in New York at the 2018 Panorama Europe Film Festival, spotlighted rural and family customs. His debut feature is inspired by Luchino Visconti’s bleak “Italian Neo-Realist” classic La Terra Trema (1948) with fishermen in Sicily, just over 100 miles away, as updated today with a mix of non-professionals and actors, in the style of the Dardennes, his mentor/producer Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop - 2007), and Rachel Israel’s romantic Keep The Change (2017) that Camilleri worked on as editor.
Luzzus are brightly striped wood fishing boats handed down from grandfather to father, to son, looking like those in Visconti’s black-and-white film, including the priest’s blessing of the fleet, now all seen in sparkling color. The challenges of overfished waters, regulated species and sizes, low prices, and inevitable repairs came out from Camilleri’s improv trials with real (and handsome) fishermen cousins Jesmark and David Scicluna. Added into their fictionalized lives is Jesmark’s wife Denise (Michela Farrugia), who prefers an office job, and a new baby with medical expenses (plus a hectoring mother-in-law).
The tensions mount on the sympathetic Jesmark as he tries to work around the monopoly middle-men buyers at the big wholesale market, with frustrating results. He looks to hustle other gigs, along with contracted migrants, such as Uday, who are denied official residence status and have to live just off-shore on their boats, so could use a local front man, or going in with those willing to sneak fresh fish at night regardless of the rules. A determined entrepreneur, he’s constantly checking options others have chosen, including investing in modern equipment and a tempting buy-out deal from the EU that would mean destruction of his heritage boat and giving up his fishing license. The suspense credibly builds: What can he do? What will he do?
Luzzu is Malta’s entry for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film. This lovely film’s old-fashioned values are clear-eyed about its charismatic working-class hero just trying to make a reasonable living and a family life behind the scenes of a scenic postcard setting.
October 16, 2021
Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
Complete Index to Nora Lee Mandel's Movie Reviews
My reviews have appeared on: Film-Forward; FF2 Media; Lilith, FilmFestivalTraveler; and, Alliance of Women Film Journalists and for Jewish film festivals. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.
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