Review of “Luzzu”: Triumphs of Classical Storytelling in the Maltese Tale
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Brightly colored ships with curious sculpted eyes, luzzu fishing boats dot the coast of Malta, an island nation most often seen in movies as an old-world Mediterranean place. In the formidable debut film by Maltese-American director Alex Camilleri, “Luzzu”, only the country’s second appearance at the Oscars, they float like symbolic anchors of tradition.
Successfully praying at the altar of the masters of Italian neorealism (Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti), Camilleri weaves a moving and dazzling humanist drama both centered on Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna), a longtime fisherman and young father, and irreducible march of modern society in favor of production.
Anger has been mounting in Jesmark since regulations and large operations made fishing untenable for independent sailors like him, pushing many to leave to work on trawlers or in factories. However, he refuses to give up the ancestral trade of his people. Jesmark’s own baby imprint stamped on his legendary, ragged luzzu, passed down from generation to generation, is a testament to a deeply rooted legacy that may be in his last days.
To refer to Scicluna simply as an unprofessional actor seems reductive. Better Description: He’s a hitherto unknown innate talent whose sunburnt skin and thoughtful expression evoke the timelessness of harsh but not mean masculinity. In a performance of extraordinary subtlety and restrained fury, he leads stubborn Jesmark to venture down riskier avenues of income to pay for his son’s medical expenses.
The measured urgency of the camera movement of the director of photography Léo Lefèvre mimics that of the worker hero to provide for his family. Postcard-ready views of Malta glide around grainy and much less flattering images of her belly, all immersed in Jon Natchez’s captivating score. Conflict, Jesmark wonders whether he should retain his identity or remove his father’s touching legacy to survive in the tide of globalization.
Sun-drenched “Luzzu” is an unaffected triumph with simmering power, the deceptively familiar type of movie that helps us navigate a place and lifestyle that most of us ignore but are made vividly compelling in. the hand of a new storyteller with classically sharp sensibilities.
In Maltese with English subtitles
Duration of operation: 1 hour 34 minutes
Playing: Starts October 22, Laemmle Royal, West LA; Laemmle Playhouse, 7 Pasadena; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino