LeftLion – Movie Review: Luzzu
Director: Alex Camilleri
With : Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna
Operating time: 94 minutes
Opening out onto the deep blue sea reflecting the harsh, bright sun, we are introduced to a man cruising alongside his boat Luzzu – a traditional Maltese fishing boat and the appropriate title of the film. We see him sailing, night and day, trying to catch fish; however, within minutes it becomes clear that things aren’t going too well. That fisherman is Jesmark, a working-class man who is the newest in a long line of family fishermen; his boat Luzzu was even passed down from his great-great-grandfather. Although his current professional life is threatened by a multitude of economic problems which seem to be tightening around his life.
Jesmark and his partner, Denise, have a little boy who needs specialist treatment and medication, which is very expensive. Soon the stress of paying that, along with rent, bills and repairs to his damaged boat becomes a heavy burden on the couple. Denise works as a waitress, but that, combined with the dwindling income the fishing industry provides, proves insufficient. The catch is that Denise’s parents, from whom she is apparently estranged, are actually reasonably wealthy and can afford the money they need. however, taking that financial burden and duty of fatherhood away from Jesmark causes a fracture in his male psyche. Around Denise’s family he doesn’t fit in, they come from totally different class backgrounds and the antagonisms between the two end up causing a rift in their own relationship, not to mention the growing weight of financial problems.
At its heart, the film is about both the slow decline of small fishing communities and how large-scale globalism has engulfed the company and driven out many fishermen. An example of this is early on when Jesmark and his friend try to sell their fish in an open auction market; the prices have come down further and when they decide to try to sell it on their own terms, many places have already bought fish from other big sellers. Another is the recurrence of large EU trawlers who massively hire people to fish on a large scale. Jesmark is hesitant to join them as he claims they are “destroying the seabed” and their huge humming ships always linger in the background of the landscapes – alongside large-scale construction sites and industrial factories. dispatch.
An absolutely stunning debut that showcases brilliantly fresh talent that is certain to have great careers
Throughout the film, his struggles continue and ultimately he is faced with a choice: retire his boat and seek retraining from an EU-funded scheme, or work in the underground world of illegal fishing – a world that aims to sell off-season fish to the highest paying buyers. Both come at a cost, with one renouncing his family tradition for good and the other joining a ruthless group that actively seeks to ruin the lives of his fishing companions. Ultimately, he’s pushed into the latter but the writer/director Alex Camilleri successfully pitches this as an option of last resort – something Jesmark is only doing because the global economy has cornered him. Camilleri creates a dichotomy between crime and capitalism and ponders the question that asks who the real criminals are. Even going so far as to feel like a character study akin to something like Michael Mann Thiefa film also about the pursuit of economic stability and raising a child in a harsh capitalist world.
A large majority of the characters, including Jesmark, are played by non-professional actors. This is something that contributes to the neo-realistic side of the film. Luzzu feels totally grounded and almost like you’re watching a documentary, staying consistently realistic and feeling like a human story. However, that’s not to say the film isn’t elegant; despite a fairly austere story, the film looks absolutely stunning as it focuses on the duality of glistening sun-drenched beaches and the shady nocturnal underworld, bathed in streetlights. There’s also a level of warmth given to the fishing community, especially in the scenes where they come together to discuss stories of their struggles adjusting to the rapidly changing economic realities in which we exist.
Luzzu feels like an ode to the workers, especially the fishermen, of Camilleri’s hometown; working-class communities grappling with encroaching corporations that seek to subjugate them; and families who simply want to provide a better life for their children. It’s an absolutely stunning debut that showcases brilliantly fresh talent that is certain to have great careers.