Sundance 2021: ‘Luzzu’ Movie Review
Luzzu is a piece of film history. It is one of the few, if not the first, local Malta films. Shot on location in Malta, Luzzu is as genuine as it gets. Featuring natives to the country, the film tells the story of a fisherman wanting to provide for his family. This simple enough premise gives way for some deeper storytelling in its characters and family dynamics. Director Alex Camilleri uses the backdrop to its full potential, practically making Malta a character itself.
While many big-budget American films have shot on location in Malta, hardly any have focused on the people who actually live there. Luzzu tries its hardest to help you understand the world it takes place in. Engrossed in fisherman culture, Camilleri’s eye behind the camera wants you focused on all the details. Moreover, it gets viewers like myself invested in a culture that I wasn’t privy to. In between the story beats you get moments of intimate and genuine interactions between fishermen. Camilleri uses real people as his actors. Real people of Malta, who go through what you see in the film every day.
For instance, Jesmark, our protagonist, is a fisherman himself in real life. His real name is the same as his character’s, Jesmark has a passion for what he does in Malta. However, when his boat begins leaking and his son is diagnosed with an eating disorder on the same day, his life begins to unravel. Challenged by changes in circumstances, Jesmark feels the responsibility to provide. It weighs heavy on him. The performance by Jesmark Scicluna shows that much.
Following Jesmark on his journey of crossing legal and ethical lines to make ends meet is heartbreaking. We see a good man at heart, as Camilleri shows him having empathy for those struggling. He gives a fish to an older woman who can’t get food for herself. This direction and character work are subtle on the director’s end, but it works to great effect. Moreover, the small moments the movie goes out of its way to show off Jesmark with family or friends is heartwarming. It is a stark contrast to the shadier things he falls into as the movie progresses.
Tested by his pride and urgent responsibility to his family, Jesmark takes up less desirable work. While the lighter moods are shown when Jesmark is fixing his Luzzu or fishing, the darker moments come at night. When Jesmark is cutting nets or selling fish out of season, it becomes clear that he is fighting against the changing times. Watching him responds in all kinds of ways to these changes is endearing and heartbreaking.
One doesn’t have to see this just about fishing, either. Luzzu, while intensely dedicated to the fishing culture and people of Malta, can be applied to various other works. Moreover, the way it displays how people handle the changing of passions and their balance with responsibilities to yourself and others morally is an interesting message. With intimate camerawork and sound design, Luzzu strikes many an emotional chord through its runtime. Watching Jesmark work tirelessly to fix his boat throughout the film pays off in an unexpected way by the end.
The way the camera lingers on the front of the boat, it looks almost as if it’s staring back at the viewer. The production work on Luzzu is very emotionally resonant. Overall, it is a great film and Sundance debut for Alex Camilleri. Being one of the first Maltese films with non-actors, it is a historic occasion. But more importantly, it tells a compelling story thanks to its genuine cast, focused director, and great story. – Ernesto Valenzuela
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