Luzzu (2021)

Luzzu (2021)

A poignant neorealist look at the moral compromises modern life demands

The Very Best

8.0

Movie

Malta
English, Maltese
Drama
2021
ALEX CAMILLERI
David Scicluna, Frida Cauchi, Jesmark Scicluna
94 min

TLDR

Who knew the world of Maltese fishing was ripe with so much drama?

What it's about

Pressing family circumstances force a struggling Maltese fisherman to compromise his most tightly-held morals.

The take

In Luzzu, tradition and modernity — plus principles and necessity — come crashing up against each other like waves in a raging storm. Trying to navigate his way through the tempest is Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna), a Maltese fisherman proudly descended from a long family line of the profession. But Jesmark’s work — and his identity, which is tightly bound up with it — is reaching a crisis point, as fishing's dwindling returns can no longer provide his family with a living. His baby son needs expensive medical care, and his wife (Michela Farrugia) sees little choice but to abandon their independence and lean on her family (who have been hostile to her choice of spouse) to get by.

And so Jesmark finds himself pricing his principles: does he struggle on in vain, or give in to the pull of the lucrative black market, which respects neither EU fishing laws nor the sanctity of the seabed? With the weight of his family legacy on his back, Jesmark’s crisis feels like a crushing existential one. As visually stunning as the titular brightly painted wooden boat passed down by Jesmark's great-grandfather, Luzzu also feels as preciously crafted, with its raw look at the realities of economic survival recalling the acutely painful dilemmas of classic neorealist cinema.

What stands out

As with many in the cast here, Scicluna wasn’t a trained actor when Luzzu was filmed. Hand-picked by the director while he worked on his fishing boat, he brings a grounding sense of authenticity to the film, breathing real, urgent life into the scenario. It’s a deeply involving and impressive performance — as the Sundance Film Festival recognized when it gave him the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award in Acting for this, his first-ever performance.

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