Review: Luzzu

Written and directed by Alex Camilleri, a man risks everything to provide for his wife and new-born son by entering Malta’s black-market fishing industry. Starring: Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna, Marta Vella, Timur Ali, Marcelle Theuma, Anthony Ellul, Stephen Buhagiar and Uday McLean.

Setting your film largely out upon the water, on a picturesque island and taking things back to a more traditional life is a recipe for a strong aesthetic and Luzzu doesn’t disappoint. Alex Camilleri’s direction is satisfyingly natural, bringing out the beautiful colours that its great locations have to offer. A quality which is only then further improved with Léo Lefèvre’s cinematography, bringing an emotional, fraught and contemplative edge. There’s also a superb warmth to the aesthetic, being bathed in sun and full of wonderful pastel colours, it evokes a strong rural, community feel. It creates a great balance of the beauty and the everyday, the high quality of its aesthetic doesn’t take away from the grounded aspect to it.

Although it interestingly doesn’t frame its story in a harsh landscape, instead feeling like it’s simply the harsh perspective of Jesmark. It creates the problem that he’s wound extremely tightly, and most of his journey is about the chip on his shoulder and his battle with pride. It’s a shame as starting out more centred around his love for his son, it ultimately takes a backseat. A lot of that focus instead is on the fishing element, which does work wonders for the visual but slows the story down and creates a depressive styled atmosphere. However, it does also wander into the territory of bureaucratic bodies crushing the life out of tradition, small businesses and labourers. Things turn around towards the end and it opens up a conversation about the decision put before men as new fathers, what kind of man and father do they want to be? And are they willing to do what it takes to become that person. It hits a much more emotional note than most of the story and it’s a shame it couldn’t capitalise on that sooner.

Jesmark Scicluna leads the story very well, you can feel the way that Jesmark’s difficulties and issues are suffocating him. You can also easily see the love he builds for his son and how that changes his outlook, even if he needs time to really take it in. There are a lot of more typical qualities to him, a classic masculinity and trying to hold on to his heritage and traditions, but there’s also an evolution to him as time goes. Scicluna handles all of it easily, it feels like he even had the potential for more but the story doesn’t ask as much of him as it could have, which is very impressive given that it’s a debut performance from a real fisherman. He takes the majority of the focus, and while Michela Farrugia’s Denise doesn’t get as much screen time or development as expected, she does still have a lot to add. Her relationship with Jesmark may be fraught but you can see how she tries to encourage him to make the right decisions for their family, and her frustrations at his resistance, rather than coming across as selfish.

Luzzu is a story of family, sacrifice and fishing but unfortunately spends a little too much time on the latter. It’s shot extremely well, Alex Camilleri’s directorial style is strong throughout, taking full advantage of all the natural colour and stunning locations to build something relatable and filled with warmth. It feels as though it left it too late to open up the emotional vein to its story, getting stuck upon the issue of pride and financial struggle, missing out on a more impactful experience.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

Available on DVD & VOD from 15 August

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