Fire at Sea review masterly and moving look at the migrant crisis

In this masterly documentary, Gianfranco Rosi contrasts the lives of the desperate thousands landing on the shores of a Sicilian island with the everyday existence of the locals

Gianfranco Rosis beautiful, mysterious and moving film is a documentary that looks like a neorealist classic. It is a portrait of Lampedusa, the Sicilian island where desperate migrants from Africa and the Middle East arrive each year hoping for a new life in Europe: 400,000 in the last 20 years. Around its coast thousands are drowned, or dragged dead from their grotesquely unsafe inflatables, burned or poisoned by fumes from the diesel with which their craft have had to be refuelled from jerry cans mid-journey, in choppy seas. Lampedusa has quietly become the tragic epicentre of the migrant experience: part holding tank, part cemetery.

The title refers to a wartime Sicilian song that a local DJ is shown playing, about the bombing of an Italian warship in 1943 in port at Lampedusa, prior to the islands surrender to the allies, and how the flames lit up the night: Che fuoco a mare che c stasera (What fire at sea there is tonight). It also put me in mind of the line from the maritime hymn: For those in peril on the sea. Islanders in Lampedusa make a living from fishing. Generations have grown up and grown old with the fear of dying at sea. The endless tide of migrants has made that fear a daily and horrible reality.

Using mainly fixed camera positions and no narrative voiceover, Gianfranco Rosi enigmatically juxtaposes scenes, switching between the migrants daily, desperate landfall, and the everyday existence of one Lampedusa family: and one young boy in particular, Samuele, whose uncle is a fisherman. Samuele does his best at school, he slurps his pasta at dinner, and he likes cutting branches that will make handles for his naughty slingshots. He has a lazy eye that doctors are treating with the old-fashioned method of blanking out one lens for the good eye, forcing the lazy one to work harder. Samuele is also suffering from hyperventilation and anxiety, and is seen by the same depressed doctor who has to attend to the migrants and carry out autopsies on their wretched corpses. He is the one explicit point of contact between the migrants story and Samuele, one hint of a symptom, or a larger malaise.

Rosis previous film was the fascinating Sacro GRA, a prose-poetic study of the Grande Raccordo Anulare, or ring road around Rome, and the people who live on this margin. There is a similar effect in Fire at Sea. Rosi has recorded quiet details from indigenous Lampedusan lives at the periphery of something far more historically dramatic and sensational, but the quietly telling details are like jetsam, flung out centrifugally. The film does not take a view; it does not demand action. It simply shows us the details, and I felt I learned more from this film than from the nightly TV news.

Fire
Fire at Sea captures the quiet details of life on Lampedusa

The migrants themselves pass through the film almost too quickly for individual lives to be registered, except one Nigerian who tells his story almost like a preacher or an actor: The sea is not a place to pass by The sea is not a road. This is daily life, the film is saying: maybe like life during wartime. It is not a temporary eruption or crisis that will be imminently solved within the conventional news cycle. Here is the rhythm of daily existence; it is Lampedusas new normal.

There is an enigmatic pageant of scenes: setting the table for supper, listening to the radio, opening the hangar door for the air-sea rescue helicopter (a mesmerically slow and sinuous sequence), migrants having a football match in near darkness and arguing about which nationalities can play, migrants dead bodies taken ashore by coastguards in white hazmat suits. The islanders are not shown objecting to the migrants, or welcoming them, or discussing what to do about them. I concede that this is arguably a flaw, an artefactual silence that drains the situation of its political reality. But it shows that this is a situation that Lampedusa has become used to over decades.

Samuele himself is a compelling figure. There is one very simple edit Rosi contrives, showing him taking aim with his catapult and then just cutting to his face in closeup, frowning with concentration: pugnacious, yet innocent and vulnerable. In its quiet way, it is sensational. Im tempted to say Samuele is a descendant of Enzo Staiola as young Bruno in De Sicas Bicycle Thieves. What does Samueles face mean? Has he somehow absorbed the spores of world history? Is his artless manner a way of suggesting that life will go on, with or without compassion or solutions? Fire at Sea is masterly film-making.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jun/09/fire-at-sea-review-masterly-and-moving-look-at-the-migrant-crisis

The post Fire at Sea review masterly and moving look at the migrant crisis appeared first on Safer Reviews, Unbiased & Independent Reviews..

from Safer Reviews, Unbiased & Independent Reviews. http://www.saferreviews.com/fire-at-sea-review-masterly-and-moving-look-at-the-migrant-crisis/
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