Luzzu


Fishing as it has been done for centuries.

(2021) Drama (Kino Lorber) Jesmark Scicluna, Frida Cauchi, Michaela Farrugia, Uday McLean, Yuric Allison, Paul Cilia, Reece Vella, Marcelle Theuma, David Scicluna, Marta Vella, Stephen Buhagiar, Noel Grech, Adrian Farrugia, Thelma Abela, Joseph Scicluna, Michael Sciortino, Sonia Cassar, Dianna Bonnici, Joseph Schiavone, Yorgen Vella, Emmanuel Muscat. Directed by Alex Camilleri

 

The Mediterranean island of Malta is not exactly a film hotspot. It is one of the smallest countries in Europe by land area, and is full of traditions that go back centuries. Like many other countries, though, it is finding that its traditions are under siege by the economic realities of modern geopolitics.

Jesmark (Je. Scicluna) is a fisherman. He, like his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather before him, have fished from a small, brightly painted wooden boat called a luzzu. However, Jesmark has found, like many of his compatriots, that fishing has been less successful as he is competing with vast trawlers that are able to catch thousands of fish in a single trip where he is struggling to net three or four. He adheres to the rules of the local fisheries board, and works hard. However, he is disquieted by the local fish auctioneers consistently selling his fish below what they are worth, and he is unable to find other buyers for his catch.

To make matters worse, Jesmark has a baby with his girlfriend Denise (M. Farrugia) and that baby is having growth issues, necessitating some expensive baby food, visits to specialists and medications – all expensive and all putting a strain on what little money they are able to save. And to top things off, his beloved boat, the Te Palma, has developed a leak that will not be cheap to repair. “Without a boat, you’ll lose your way,” a fellow fisherman warns. These things have driven a wedge between Jesmark and Denise, and she moves out with his son to live with her mother, who already has a strained relationship with Jesmark, whom she disapproves of.

Jesmark is forced to compromise his ethics, working on the black market selling fish illicitly, some out of season, some off the books. Jesmark indeed feels that he has lost his way, and with the European Union putting pressure on local fishermen to buy back their luzzus and move them into different occupations which Jesmark is extremely reluctant to do, it is looking more and more like he will have little choice if his small family is to survive.

It is unsurprising that Camilleri has a background in documentaries, for this has the look and feel of one. The marketing material describes the film as “neorealist” or “hyper-realistic” and both monikers are true; there is a very authentic vibe here – you can almost smell the salt air and the rotting wood of the docks. That is the mark of a good documentary.

Jesmark Scicluna, who is not a professional actor, is a real find here. Ruggedly handsome with a sober mien (he rarely smiles in the movie nor is there much reason for him to), he has a charismatic personality that leaps off the screen as he fights forces that he doesn’t understand and are way out of his control. It’s an extremely effective performance that is bound to resonate among those who are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet even with a good job. If the fishing industry is really as bad as it is made out to be here, he could have a legitimate shot at a career in front of the camera.

The story moves effortlessly from the documentary-like first act into the second act which is more of a crime drama, although one that has little suspense. We feel more the economic squeeze on Jesmark than we do any sort of fear of the consequences if he is to be caught. This leads to an ending that is poignant and well-earned.

Camilleri is a protege of Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes) who also produced the film. Like some of his mentor’s best films, Camilleri infuses this film with a sense of how difficult it is to survive when everything is stacked against you, as it is these days. This isn’t an easy movie to watch in the sense that it will take you out of your own troubles; chances are you’ll recognize some of your own troubles in the film. However, the movie is brilliantly acted by a largely amateur cast, wonderfully shot by Léo Lefevre, and certainly worth your time and trouble to seek it out.

REASONS TO SEE: Jesmark is an absolutely magnetic presence. An engaging story that has universal appeal. Perfectly captures the desperation of those living on the edge of a financial abyss.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be too quiet and slow-paced for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jesmark Scicluna is an actual fisherman in Malta who was cast by Camilleri for the film, along with a number of other fishermen playing – you guessed it, fishermen.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Kino Marquee
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/18/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: CODA
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Son of Monarchs

Going the Distance


 

Going the Distance

Getting typecast in romantic comedies can make any actress a little catty.

(New Line) Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Natalie Morales, Kelli Garner, June Diane Raphael, Rob Riggle, Terry Beaver, Matt Servitto, Sarah Burns, Taylor Schwenke.  Directed by Nanette Burstein

Long distance romances are a fact of modern life. People meet online, or find jobs halfway across the country; in other words, things happen. Modern technology makes these kinds of relationships much easier than they were a decade ago, but it is still a very difficult proposition.

Erin (Barrymore) is a summer intern at a New York newspaper. She’s hoping to parlay the internship into a full-time job, but there aren’t any to be had so it will be back to San Francisco for further graduate work at Stanford in the fall. She loves New York and wants to be in the middle of things there, but she’ll have to check back in a year; hopefully there will be some available jobs then.

Garrett (Long) is a commitment-phobic guy who works for a record company. While he is passionate about music, he hates his job as the label, terrified at the economic enviornment for record labels, is only going for what appear to be safe acts that are going to generate revenue as opposed to making great music.  His personal life is no better; he goes from girlfriend to girlfriend, unable to understand why they leave him and wondering what it is that he’s missing in his personality to make relationships work. His friend Box (Sudeikis) and roommate Dan (Day) think his best bet is going to the bar and tying one on.

At the same bar is Erin. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the two are going to meet. It also isn’t a stretch to figure out they’re going to hit it off and over Erin’s last six weeks, fall in love. And that once the six weeks are over, they’re going to want to continue the relationship from afar.

That much is a given. However, what is really surprising is that the obstacles that the couple faces aren’t manufactured. They are the kind of things long-distance daters deal with every day. Both Erin and Garrett are working in industries that are on the endangered list;  jobs aren’t plentiful so they are pretty much stuck where they are and that is really what separates the two of them.

There’s a good deal of sex here which is also part and parcel of the long-distance experience. On those occasions they do get together it’s hard to keep their hands off of each other (or other body parts). Sometimes that can lead to fairly embarrassing situations involving dining room tables and paper-thin bedroom walls. That also shows in their phone conversations, and in their relationships with other people. In short, they are both sexually frustrated and constantly horny.

Barrymore projects one of the sweetest natures in show biz, much like Meg Ryan did a decade ago, and has quietly become one of the most reliable romantic comedy actresses in the business. She is sweet but with a core of steel; she takes no crap and stands up for what she believes in both onscreen and off. It is also a good bet that whenever you get a movie that Barrymore is in, the soundtrack is going to be rich with great indie rock acts, and this one is no different in that regard.

Erin has a great relationship with her uptight sister (Applegate) and her somewhat pedantic brother-in-law (Gaffigan) and their devil-spawn daughter Maya (Schwenke). But it is Box and Dan that nearly steal the show; every time they are onscreen, something is going on that’s going to at least make you giggle. Most of the comedy that goes on in this romantic comedy is coming from them.

Justin Long has never been one of my favorite actors, but he does what he does very very well. He seems to be mellowing and maturing as time goes by, which is slowly turning my opinion of him. Here he has a natural chemistry with Barrymore that makes the relationship even more believable. He has a hangdog look and some natural comic timing which I’ve seen in other movies as well as in some of his television work; unfortunately the few comic bits he gets to do really are some of the least successful in the film.

It’s no secret that American romantic comedies have been slowly fading in quality over the past several years. Part of the reason for that has to do with most writers following the same formula; boy meets girl, they fall in love, they are separated by misunderstanding or circumstance and they reconnect in the final reel. Studios will allow no departures from the formula, mainly because these kinds of movies tend to do really well at the box office.

This movie more or less follows the same formula, but fortunately does it in an entirely organic way so that it doesn’t feel formula. As I said earlier, most of the obstacles in the relationship evolve out of real world obstacles. There are no comic misunderstandings, no forced breakups; just two people who love each other that is separated by the circumstances of their lives and frustrated by it.

I also admired that Barrymore didn’t try to play a sweet young thing in her mid-20s. Here, she is in her 30s and trying to make up for lost time after a failed relationship. It made sense and contributed to the overall realism of the movie.

I’m not exactly sure why the movie was exiled to the frozen wasteland that is the Labor Day weekend, traditionally a very poor movie-going weekend. This is a solid, charming little film that doesn’t force its charm nor does it rely on its stars to elevate mediocre material. It isn’t going to rewrite the manual for romantic comedies, but it at least delivers on the formula in a way that isn’t the same old thing. I, for one, appreciate that.

REASONS TO GO: Barrymore is perhaps the most reliable rom-com actress in the business today. This is a romantic comedy that has its feet planted in the real world.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many typical rom-com clichés pepper the plot.

FAMILY VALUES: You’ll be seeing far more of Justin Long than perhaps anybody was ever meant to see; there is also a share of bad language and sexual references that is more than average. There’s also one scene of extended marijuana use; if you’re okay with all of that, let your kids have at it. Otherwise, older teens and above would be my recommendation.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Barrymore and Long are a couple in real life.

HOME OR THEATER: This is a good movie to pop up some popcorn in the microwave, grab a couple of sodas from the fridge and cuddle up next to your honey on the couch for.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: My One and Only