Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea)
The inflow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and arriving in precarious, overcrowded boats on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa has been constant over the past few years. As the number of casualties soar and no action is taken to tackle the crisis, news reports cannot convey the severity of the situation or the psychological impact for those involved. Director Gianfranco Rosi brings awareness to the issue with a film-documentary that does not explicitly denounce political apathy, but rather seeks to transmit emotions and does so with great effect.
Fuocoammare begins by depicting the quiet life of the islanders. There are boys playing in the silent woods, fishermen patiently waiting, women sewing. The tragedy is not placed at the centre of the movie, and that makes it all the more powerful. The film is a collection of seemingly unrelated clips, a series of random snippets of daily life that gradually, thanks to the commendable editing, register by osmosis as a rich, multilayered portrait of the island’s complex social reality. There is no commentary or explanation of the context, but rather a zooming in on the details, which then form a powerful picture as they build up and grip the viewer.
The focal point leans towards the locals, and more specifically on young schoolboy Samuele. The camera plunges into the personal spaces of the islanders, from an old lady listening to Sicilian love songs on the radio to the radio show host himself, to the fishermen, the local doctor, and the children. Samuele’s delightful spontaneity brings a light-heartedness to the otherwise sombre atmosphere. However, beneath his confident attitude there are signs of unease, as if a sense of foreboding has seeped into every corner of Lampedusa.
The juxtaposition of the immigrants’ experiences with the slow-motion life of the islanders heightens the impact of the tragedy. There are long shots of stillness that draw one into the melancholic world of the locals. By contrast, the reality of the newly arrived migrants is like a fast flowing river where thousands of strained faces and cries for help haunt those who witness them. The doctor, who has attended to migrants in the most deplorable conditions, cannot hide his emotion as he relates what he has seen.
Silence prevails, setting the mood, and words are spoken to reveal emotions more than they are used to expose facts. Powerful and spellbinding, Fuocoammare is a quiet observation awakening a surge of sympathy that no journalistic account could provoke in the same visceral way.
Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) is released nationwide on 10th June 2016.
Watch the trailer for Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) here: