The Movie Waffler New to VOD - LUZZU | The Movie Waffler

New to VOD - LUZZU

luzzu review
A Maltese fisherman faces a moral dilemma.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Alex Camilleri

Starring: Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna, Frida Cauchi, Uday McLean, Stephen Buhagiar

luzzu poster

Big fan of maritime films, here. Aside from how instantly cinematic the ocean is (even a bad film made upon the ocean is still a film set upon the ocean, which, just like a film which features actual snowfall, automatically confers an exhilarating aesthetic upon the screen), there is the cheering against-all-odds proof of the human endeavour involved with filming upon the cruel sea, the skill and resilience required to realise aquatic vision. We’ve all heard the legendary troubles which the water and an animatronic caused Spielberg during Jaws, and the spiralling costs of Mr. Costner’s Waterworld. Perhaps man was not supposed to film on water, yet we try anyway, and I am here for it. In fact, movies aside, I’m quite a big fan of the sea as it is. Stepping off land and into a heaving element which links different continents, which connects to the entire world and everyone that lives in it: if I was an inhumanly powerful swimmer I could breaststroke to Spain, butterfly to Norway. Carried along in this vast body of water which gives life but is yet powerful enough to destroy towns in a single tsunami. It’s quite humbling.

luzzu review

Another respectful relationship between a young man and the sea is duly depicted in the opening sequences of Alex Camilleri’s impressive feature debut Luzzu, wherein Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) works on a small fishing boat (the ‘luzzu’ of the title) in the Mediterranean off Malta. The sound design of this mainly dialogue free scene extols the dynamic of Jesmark’s role: heavy splashes, the hum of machinery; Jesmark symbiotically lives off the sea with its abundance of salty sustenance, working as fisherman for the coastal markets. Problem is that the EU and its censorious rules are encroaching on Jesmark’s modest livelihood, along with his wife’s (Denise - Michela Farrugia) family, who recognise the diminishing importance of his role in the town’s infrastructure. To cap it all off, Jesmark and Denise’s new-born has a concerning health condition, which is going to cost to fix. No wonder the offer of taking jobs for the underground fishmonger black-market is so tempting for beleaguered Jesmark.

luzzu review

Shrewdly, Luzzu’s presentation of the EU is scantily developed, with little ideological bias: the ramifications are presented simply in as far as they affect our central characters, not as part of some bigger picture of good or evil. Hence, in that opening sequence we see piscators forced to throw back a valuable swordfish which had got tangled in a net, as the securing of such a fish contravenes laws regarding ‘maximum residue levels’ (you can read about it here if you’re at all interested. As someone who doesn’t believe that a sentient creature should be killed simply because a human fancies a snack, I’m nonplussed. It is frustrating, however, that the above swordfish and other marine life who suffer a similarly ungainly fate died for nothing). The confidence of Luzzu’s meditative pacing, and its unfussy storytelling is correspondingly impressive. The film allows its characters space to enact their rudimentary, and entirely captivating, human drama, and for us to sympathise with Jesmark’s compromised situation.

luzzu review

Perhaps there are other, more intuitive reasons for Jesmark taking up with Maltese fish racketeers (the assignments of which sound and look like the most bizarre GTA missions imaginable). That is, to get back to the ocean. Camilleri and DoP Léo Lefèvre configure dry land as a chaos of noise and claustrophobia: tight corridors in tenement blocks where people live on top of one another, roads thick with air pollution and throbbing with the sound of horns. His mother in law gives him earache, he’s not much of a father to his sickly kid. Yet the ocean calls, and there is brine in Jesmark’s blood. He scrabbles to repair his vibrantly coloured Luzzu, which bears the tiny painted imprint of his baby footprint, facilitated by his father fisherman. The chances of Jesmark re-enacting this feat are increasingly unlikely, he knows. And so, in its third act, Luzzu ultimately becomes a study of masculinity, and the necessity to balance responsibility. Still Jesmark is drawn back to the shifting shores, and the romantic promise of the horizon. Tempting that seafaring impulse to escape the world. The nautical imperative to return to where once we crawled from.

Luzzu is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2022 movie reviews