“Luzzu” is about slowly eliminating ancient rituals and traditions, bureaucracies imposing themselves on something that has existed for centuries. The “Luzzu,” named for a traditional Maltese fishing boat, lies in the uncomfortable space between tradition and modernity, where the “old ways” are not only devalued but also criminalized, erasing the past, leaving people to face an uncertain future. “Luzzu” doesn’t ask as many questions as presents problems, and does so in a quasi-documentary style, removing the gap between the subject matter and the audience. “Luzzu” is not homework or college. “Luzzu” is embedded in a rapidly disappearing world, and director Alex Camilleri approaches it with sensitivity, knowing that authenticity is critical to how the film operates. Camilleri was clearly influenced by Italian neo-realism and contemporaries of the tradition such as Dardennes and Ramin Bahrani (one of the producers of “Luzzu”). “Luzzu” is a moving portrait of an ever-changing world, and a man trying to survive the changes driven by the confusing outside world.
Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) goes out every day with his brightly colored luzzu, which he inherited from his father, who, in turn, inherited it from his father. Jesmark fished all day into the night, working to bring home the full catch for sale at local fish auctions. EU regulations have curtailed this long-standing tradition. Catching certain fish during the “close season” is illegal, and boats are inspected randomly by the authorities, an outrage for people who have been fishing since time immemorial. Jesmark and his wife Denise (Michela Farrugia) have just given birth, and the baby needs special care. They have no money. A veil of worry settles over the marriage, pushing the couple apart. His Luzzu leaked and needed a complete overhaul, which also cost money. He divides his time between working on luzzu and his new cryptic side gig.
Luzzus floated in and out of the harbor, shimmering with color and personal touch, painted yellow, green, blue, with bulging wooden eyes stuck to the bow, eyes peering into a world that made no sense anymore. Across the harbor is a giant container harbor, the modern world forcing fish out of the harbor. Jesmark looks around the only life he’s ever known and sees it disappear. Inside the boat were baby footprints painted yellow, his own. What could he pass on to his own son? The government offers purchases to fishermen. But what would Jesmark do instead? Fishing is all he knows.
Camilleri, the first-time director, pinned himself in this world. In collaboration with cinematographer Léo Lefèvre, “Luzzu” captures the rituals, daily tasks of this job: catching fish, packing them in ice for the return journey, cleaning the fish, repairing nets, transporting the forbidden swordfish onto the boat before throwing it back. Nothing is explained. You understand what happens by watching. The sun, the sound of the waves, the traffic on the road in the background, it all comes down to vivid reality. He grew up in snowy Minnesota, far from those salty winds. He looked at Malta with the eyes of an exile, and the perception of the exiles about their homeland was often sharp, pointed. Most importantly, Camilleri approached Malta with curiosity. Frustrated by Malta’s lack of independent film culture, and frustrated that Malta is often used in place of other places in big films, Camilleri decided to go to Malta and investigate what stories he might tell. He became fascinated by the fishermen.
The cast consists of non-actors. He made real fishermen into fishermen, including Jesmark Scicluna. Everyone in this film actually lives in this world. David Scicluna plays Jesmark’s friend, trying to follow the rules, trying to help Jesmark. (In real life, the two men were cousins.) Camilleri worked with both of them, having them improvise scenes, allowing them to just do what they would in certain circumstances. They are both intoxicating. When they fight, there is real pain behind it. Fucked fish auctions are the Real Thing, and there’s nothing like the real thing. Chloé Zhao uses the same approach in “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” and “The Rider ,” and—to a lesser extent—”Brady Jandreau, the central character in “The Rider,” so unknowingly himself in front of the camera that he