This Maltese maritime drama combines fascinating cultural specifics, a captivating colour palette, and an affecting central performance with a perceptive examination of societal and economic change.
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Named for the brightly painted traditional Maltese fishing vessel, and picking around the edges of that rich maritime tradition, Alex Camilleri’s Luzzu explores the impacts of economic ‘progress’ and globalisation through the life of dour, small-time fisherman Jesmark (imbued with raw immediacy by actual Maltese fisherman Jesmark Scicluna – this first performance netting him a Special Jury Award at Sundance).
Facing poverty and a declining daily catch, Jesmark’s desire to provide for his family puts him at odds with the only way of life he’s ever known, and to which he feels beholden. Camilleri’s narrative eschews easy depictions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the various paths open to Jesmark, instead diligently piecing together the complex mix of motivations and circumstance that inform his hard-wrought choices, and of those whose stories intersect.
Luzzu shares a narrative and thematic kinship with Mark Jenkins’ equally excellent English seaside character study Bait (2019), with a side of Loachian social realism, all wreathed in the colour and warmth of the Mediterranean. — Jacob Powell