Director – Alex Camilleri – 2021 – Malta – Cert. 15 – 95m
As he repairs the small boat that’s been in his family for generations, a fisherman grapples with both his role as a new parent and the economic changes threatening his livelihood – on Curzon Home Cinema (CHC) from Monday, June 27th
While out on the sea in his small boat known as a ‘luzzu’, lone fisherman Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) notices water in the bottom of his boat and realises the vessel is in urgent need of repair. His friend David (David Scicluna) both helps him beach the craft in an appropriate location for doing the work and gives him work as crew on David’s more modern boat.
When they catch a swordfish out of season which must be thrown back according to EU regulations, Jes protests that it’s dead and no-one throws these fish back. David, mindful of his liability, phones the authorities to ask if they can keep it, then throws it back. Just as well, because an inspector (Anthony Ellul) checks the vessel on their return to port.
Taking their catch to market, where they are bottom of the pile, they watch the seller fail to interest buyers in their catch and then frantically hawk it around local restaurants in the hope of shifting it while still fresh, to no avail. Jes is desperate enough to try the place where his wife Denise (Michela Farrugia) waitresses, even though the owner has warned him off previously.
Things are already strained in the couple’s relationship, with Denise worried about their baby son’s health and how their meagre income will allow them to pay the necessary healthcare, which includes specialists. She is relying on her better off mother’s financial support rather than that of her husband, and soon moves over there temporarily. Also, her mother has a number of doctor friends, so may be able to call in favours.
To better his lot, Jes meanwhile ingratiates himself with the local trawler owner (Stephen Buhagiar) via initially hostile right hand man Uday (Uday McLean), both of whom warm to him when they realise his skills learned from the lower end of the industry may be useful to them. Uday takes him under his wing and on a night fishing trip shows him marker buoys used for locating and retrieving illegal catches from local fisherman for sale on the black market. Uday introduces him to dodgier practices still, such as slashing the nets of local small fisherman who’ve not co-operated.
Uday says because he’s Indian, there are people who won’t deal with him, but the indigenous Jes should encounter no such problems. All this time, Jes is working fixing his luzzu, selling cans of petrol to passing motorists to help fund the cost of replacement timber. Encouraged by Uday’s boss to buy a freezer van so he can get on working for him, and learning of an EU boat scrappage system intended to ease fishermen into other industries, he eventually takes the grant and buys the van. Presumably this will give him problems with the authorities further down the line.
The non-actors playing Jesmark and David are real life fishing cousins and the sequences of them at sea on their boats and elsewhere, improvised from scenarios by the the director, possess an almost documentary feel. These are captivating to watch, and win you over at the start of the proceedings.
Equally captivating are the numerous scenes of parenting a baby with Jesmark and actress Michela Farrugia, numerous, unsentimentalised images of one or other of them carrying the baby around the home over their shoulders, or wheeling a buggy, the kind of things that all parents do and which are rarely shown to this extent in movies but will be familiar to all those who’ve had this near-universal parenting experience.
These scenes too possess an almost documentary sensibility and would be as effective in any film into which they were worked. I was reminded of the very different Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn (Radu Jude, 2021) which similarly augmented its main narrative (teachers appearing in online homemade porn) with rarely seen yet commonplace and universal, incidental subject matter (images of mask-wearing and social distancing during the pandemic).
Put together inventively on a shoestring, Luzzu plays out as a slice of life drama that effectively foregrounds not only the plight of small, traditional operators whose livelihoods are declining in the face of modernisation and economies of scale but also the very real pressures of a young couple with a small baby. These are very real concerns for people that transcend the specific world of fishermen pictured here, making the film well worth seeing.
Luzzu is on Curzon Home Cinema (CHC) from Monday, June 27th.
Curzon Home Cinema (CHC): Monday, June 27th
UK Cinemas: Friday, May 27th