Alex Camilleri’s feature directorial debut is a melancholy lament on the decline of traditional ways of life. Without romanticising an often difficult daily life, his story of a Maltese fisherman is naturalistic but beautiful.
Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) fishes using the traditional luzzu boat that has belonged to his family for generations, even featuring a painted footprint made when he was a baby. However, under pressure to provide for his newborn son – who is developing slowly and requires expensive medical intervention – and supplement his wife Denise’s (Michela Farrugia) income, a leak in his vessel comes at an inopportune time. Although Jesmark wants to maintain his way of life, he finds himself tempted by the sterile modern opportunities in his industry, both through official channels, as well as the more corrupt and illegal undercurrents.
“…there is beauty in the varied imagery: the deep navy of a dimly lit sea; the seedy amber hue of a street-lit backstreet deal; the bright primary colours of Jesmark’s boat.”
Camilleri’s use of non-professional actors, as well as his focus on the encroaching spectre of modernisation on traditional methods in a working-class profession, brings something of an Italian neorealist edge to the tale. However, there is beauty in the varied imagery: the deep navy of a dimly lit sea; the seedy amber hue of a street-lit backstreet deal; the bright primary colours of Jesmark’s boat. The traditional design featuring eyes (lingered upon frequently) may seem an anthropomorphisation too far for some. Still, the generational significance of the luzzu is also established by Jesmark’s friends and community involvement in the boat’s refurbishment.
Jesmark Scicluna is the perfect balance of readable and inscrutable. His furrowed brow is easy to interpret as a blank and incomprehensible facade to the likes of his mother-in-law, but his double-takes and distant stares belie inner conflicts in other scenarios. As his acting debut, it is remarkable, and a great deal of credit should go to Camilleri for eliciting the performance (as well as those of the supporting cast).
“Nothing is forced, and the key dilemmas faced by Jesmark build organically during the story.”
The emotional hit of LUZZU is built up slowly by Camilleri, with contrasting imagery of Jesmark’s approach – intrinsically linked with his sense of self and heritage – and avenues that offer him more bountiful opportunities for lucre. When discussing his future work options, a massive container ship fills the background of Jesmark’s conversation with Denise. The bureaucracy of the inspection of his friend David’s (David Scicluna) boat is a cold and official process compared to the bright solitude of Jesmark’s luzzu expeditions. Camilleri brings in aspects of local corruption through subtle and quick observations from Jesmark’s point of view. Nothing is forced, and the key dilemmas faced by Jesmark build organically during the story.
The conclusion of LUZZU is profoundly sad but caps off a story told with skill, beauty, and resonance far beyond the shores of Malta.