Written and Directed by Alex Camilleri.
Starring Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna, and Frida Cauchi.
Jesmark, a struggling fisherman on the island of Malta, is forced to turn his back on generations of tradition and risk everything by entering the world of black market fishing to provide for his girlfriend and newborn baby.
Capturing an authentic slice of Maltese fisherman life (complete with luscious compositions of the village and sea courtesy of cinematographer Léo Lefèvre), Luzzu also doubles as a character study of Jesmark (played by a non-actor sharing the same first name, Jesmark Scicluna, turning in such achingly beautiful work that he won a special acting award at Sundance) struggling to continue making a living not only the way he has been but the way his parents and grandparents have done before him. Unfair regulations and black-market operations complicate the feasibility of the lifestyle, also placing pressure at the worst of times as Jesmark is coming up short of providing for his wife Carmen (Frida Cauchi) and their baby boy, who is not growing right and requires special costly medical attention.
Jesmark’s titular luzzu (Maltese for fishing boat) also happens to have a hole in it, thematically coinciding with the widening gap in this man’s heart from his chosen way of living becoming increasingly unviable with every passing moment. Carmen’s mother is also somewhat confrontational and skeptical of the marriage lasting, justifiably posing to Jesmark if he wants to make repairs and sell off the boat, subsequently getting into a more sustainable occupation, or if it’s worth it to risk and further jeopardize that stability by sticking his head in the sand and sticking to his passion for income.
Given the in-depth look at the effort that goes into eking out this living (everything from casting nets, to technical terms regarding fixing the boat, to what types of fish are currently legal to sell, to the visual look of the books that come with handcrafted faces telling stories of their own), there’s assuredly much to admire in Luzzu when it comes to enlightening details. However, the inner conflict of someone forced to choose between personal fulfillment and sacrifices for the betterment of his family also adds a universal dynamic. Again, it’s incredibly relatable considering the touching work from Jesmark Scicluna, who I can only assume got involved with writer/director Alex Camilleri (under the mentorship of The White Tiger filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, serving as a producer here) out of pure passion.
Without giving too much away, developments arise showing that the system is pretty much broken for those in the financial dilemma of Jesmark, causing the black market job to feel more enticing. Naturally, going that route also starts to pit him against his own working-class kind, creating a different kind of equally compelling conflict. Of course, this is set against escalating tensions between Jesmark and Carmen and her family, although both characters and the baby subplot are partially underwritten. With that said, Jesmark has enough screen time dedicated to show that he cherishes both family and fishing.
While it is perhaps a little frustrating, it’s also not a dealbreaker since Luzzu rides on the waves of a lived-in atmosphere and a richly subdued leading performance. Luzzu also arrives at a touching conclusion boasting a beautiful closing shot, aesthetically and thematically.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com