Luzzu arrives in selected cinemas nationwide from May 27th.
Maltese-American filmmaker Alex Camilleri’s Luzzu is a gem of neorealist drama and one of the few Maltese-language films to have been filmed in and produced by the island country. Here Camilleri wraps us in the real issues facing the Maltese population through the eyes of a local fisherman with an emotional and heartbreaking story of desperation and survival within a dying industry. Luzzu – refers to Malta’s traditional, brightly coloured fishing boats. Local fisherman Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) makes a living catching and selling fish to the town’s restaurants. However, survival is a constant struggle in a job that has run in his family for centuries, with tight fishing regulations, corruption and a thriving black market a barrier to security.
Camilleri’s film begins with Jesmark’s precious luzzu leaking – a problem he revisits throughout the story. However, the leaking boat is just a part of the stress and strain Jesmark navigates, from a newborn baby with health issues who requires a more expensive formula to pressure from his wife (Michela Farrugia) and the disdain of his mother-in-law. As a result, Jesmark turns to the black market surrounding the fishing industry as a solution. Here the initial imagery of the leaking boat subtly turns into a metaphor for Jesmark’s situation as he attempts to fix a series of challenges with no simple solutions.
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Thanks to its amateur actors (Scicluna won the Special Jury Award for Acting at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival), on-location filming and continuous use of natural light, the film’s style strongly resembles neorealism and feels almost documentary-like in its intensity. This is the story of an ordinary man struggling to provide for his family while facing the inevitable collapse of his traditional profession. Of course, this story has been told millions of times before, but the realism Camilleri brings to Luzzu makes it an impactful, poignant and captivating tale. Here the natural approach to both filmmaking and acting results in a distinctively intimate and personal moral fable that simultaneously portrays the bigger issues in contemporary Malta.
As Jesmark starts exploring Malta’s black market in desperation, he realises that it is run by the same people who reject his products at legal fish auctions. But as he ventures deeper into this world, from the illegal transport of goods to the bribes made to politicians, he realises that this is part of a much larger political corruption. Here Camilleri provides a delicate conversation on Malta’s political system without diluting the power of Jesmark’s journey.
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Luzzu’s ability to examine and explore topics ranging from ecological decline to economic hardship and industrial change through a single fisherman’s eyes is outstanding. This duality in the storytelling ensures Luzzu carries a deep emotional hook as we explore these broader social and political issues through Jesmark – a man who effectively becomes a representative of humanity’s struggles as our world changes. Here the unique cinematography by Léo Lefèvre further reinforces the neorealist style as he paints a picture of a Maltese industrial landscape rather than romanticising the beloved tourist hotspot. Luzzu may be a slow-paced drama, but it is an utterly captivating film that ripples with urgency. The result is a stand-out piece of Maltese cinema that sweeps viewers away with a series of deep and powerful undercurrents.
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Luzzu’s ability to examine and explore topics ranging from ecological decline to economic hardship and industrial change through a single fisherman’s eyes is outstanding.