In the naturalistic drama “Luzzu,” Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) spends days bobbing and fishing in bright sea waters off the coast of Malta. Though fish are few and money is tight, Jesmark treasures his trade and the cheerfully painted luzzu — or quaint wooden fishing boat — that has been passed down through his paternal lineage for generations. But once he and his wife Denise (Michela Farrugia) learn that their infant son requires pricey medical care, Jesmark must negotiate between his fidelity to fishing and the demands of a modern world.
As a character, Jesmark is familiar. He is strong, sullen and stubborn, a zealous laborer whose working-class upbringing left him with a sturdy moral code and a chip on his shoulder. Quarrels with Denise or his fishing buddy David (David Scicluna) often end in Jesmark storming off in a headstrong huff. Eventually, his stiff upper lip grows tiresome, and our hero’s slow road to redemption grows less important than the people and settings that surround him. Here, Alex Camilleri, the Maltese American writer-director, excels.
In “Luzzu,” his first feature film, Camilleri demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of how small moments can build a sense of place: sandals on the salty floor of a fishery; a metal scraper peeling paint from a hull; a priest blessing boats for safe passage. Malta’s views are arresting, but the images Camilleri chooses would never be found in a travel brochure. In his subtle, vérité approach, he captures something special — not one man’s crisis, but a community’s culture.
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