Narrative is sacrificed for authenticity in this stunning directorial and acting debut from Malta.

Reviews by Joyce Glasser Luzzu (May 27, 2022) Cert 15, 94 minutes

The film by Maltese-American filmmaker Alex Camilleri Luzzu must be celebrated for his journey from the Sundance workshops to Camilleri’s debut feature film and Malta’s attendance at the Academy Awards. The film is also the debut of two non-actors: real-life Maltese fishermen Jesmark Scicluna and David Scicluna, who plays his cousin, also David. New screenwriters and directors are advised to write about what they know and while knowledgeable about Malta, he knew nothing about fishing. Jesmark was there to teach him authenticity and it’s the documentary fishing and boating scenes that will stick in your mind.

Jesmark’s (Jesmark Scicluna) traditional wooden boat (called Luzzu) is painted so brightly against the blue Mediterranean that one might think it was a tourist gimmick. But the handsome fisherman in his 30s has no relationship with tourists. His ties to his boat date back to his proud father and grandfather and he is passionate about his simple line and net fishing. It’s all he knows, and Jesmark makes a living out at sea by selling fish to the local shops and restaurants.

This lifestyle and his family are his world, but to have a story you must have some obstacles. Jesmark is confronted simultaneously by three who together threaten his livelihood, his marriage, and his precious baby son, Aiden.

Jesmark’s catch is limited by EU legislation, although from what we see in the first fishing scene he only comes back with a few fish. Mafia-backed or black-market forces are at work in the market, where he sells his fish at lower prices, and in the sea, where illegal catches corner the market. Jesmark also notices that his boat has a hole in it.

At the same time, Jesmark’s beautiful wife Denise (professional stage actress Michela Farrugia) has discovered that their precious new baby, Aiden, needs expensive medical care). Denise comes from an upper-middle-class family who seem to disapprove of their marriage, and Jesmark’s inability to provide for his family only proves them right.

For Aiden’s sake, he swallows his pride and allows Denise and Aiden to live with his in-laws, who pay for the private doctor that Aiden has to see.

Jesmark doesn’t need the pressure of his wife to realize that he needs to find a way to provide for his family. Despite being torn, he decides to work on an illegal trawler at night. However, the well-paid job soon takes over his life.

Léo Lefèvre’s cinematography offers us many beautiful landscapes, and the fishing scenes are so atmospheric that they almost smell like fresh fish and salty, wet gear. But the fixation on the mechanics of luzzu fishing slows down an already restrained narrative, while scenes of repairing a hole in the boat require patience, especially as the narrative blurs in the film’s third section

Jesmark’s dilemma isn’t entirely convincing either. The son’s health turns out to be a diversionary tactic and together with the Oscar-winning film coda, we have to take for granted in view of the bureaucratic problems that Jesmark has to deal with and which allegedly affect independent fishermen disproportionately. But in both films, the rationale behind these restrictions and regulations reflects dwindling fish stocks and impacts the future of all fishermen.

The aim of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy of 1983 was to bring fish stocks back to a sustainable level by 2020. It will also include incentives and rewards for operators who, like Jesmark, fish sustainably and keep catches within quota limits. If not, why is no one in the Maltese government speaking out, either from Jesmark’s group or for them?

The illegal competition Jesmark faces from the informal economy, which also contributes to declining inventories, price-fixing and fraud, is a more immediate hit, but one that affects the country and the EU as a whole. Jesmark’s decision to join the enemy is a desperate but calculated risk. While it provides the main tension of the story, the dramatization of that decision is never fully realized.

Narrative is sacrificed for authenticity in this stunning directorial and acting debut from Malta.

Source link Narrative is sacrificed for authenticity in this stunning directorial and acting debut from Malta.

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