Terraferma

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Terraferma
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

The quiet Sicilian island of Linarto is going through the throws of modern change. The fishing industry, the centuries-long main occupation for the islanders, is being replaced by the lucrative tourist industry. But, the isle is also the path to freedom for the illegal immigrants fleeing repression in Libya to find “Terraferma.”

Robin:
The Italian government has decreed that it is against the law to pick up illegals at sea. For elderly fisherman Ernesto (Mimmo Cuticchio), though, the law of the sea supersedes the law of the land and he and his grandson, Filippo (Filippo Pucillo), rescue a pregnant Ethiopian woman and her son from the depths of the Mediterranean. This act of heroism brings the local police down on Ernesto and his family, impounding their primary means of earning a living – their boat.

The trailer for “Terraferma” makes you think that this is mainly a mirthful tale of an island under invasion by tourists. But filmmaker Emanuele Crialese delves into much more serious material in his story of honor, the law and helping our fellow man. It is also a story of three generations of a Sicilian fishing family coping with the changes that modern life has in store for them.

Ernesto’s decision to rescue the refugee mother and the loss of his family’s livelihood brings his daughter-in-law Giulietta (Donatella Finocchiaro) to decide to rent out her home to tourists visiting the island. Three young backpackers, the same age as Filippo, rent the place and he and his mother must move into their garage.

Filippo takes more than an innocent interest in the young woman backpacker, Maura (Martina Codecasa), and a romance begins. This story, when Filippo takes Maura on a nighttime boat ride, takes on gut-wrenching proportions when the come upon a group of stranded refugees clamoring to get on board. Filippo must fight them off, frantically smashing their grasping fingers with an oar, or they will swamp the boat.

There are a number of such vignettes by cinematographer Fabio Cianchetti, some frightening, as the above harrowing incident, to a shot of a horde of tourists diving in unison off their tour boat and the beautifully composed final images of “Terraferma.” The film looks great and the screenplay, by director Crialese and Vittorio Moroni, is a nicely layered work that composes its several stories like a symphony. I give it a B.

Laura:
On the tiny island of Linosa off the coast of Sicily, Filippo (Filippo Pucillo, "Respiro," "Golden Door") is fishing with his grandfather Ernesto (Mimmo Cuticchio) when they come across a wreck.  Filippo's father was lost at sea three years prior and while Ernesto believes Filippo should follow in his and his dad's footsteps, Uncle Nino (Giuseppe Fiorello, "The Talented Mr. Ripley"), who also employs Filippo as a glorified towel boy for tourists, thinks they should take the $100K Euros they could get for scrapping Ernesto's boat.  Ernesto's old ways also involve a moral compass and when he assists the Africans who frequently appear in their waters, his boat is impounded and Filippo's mom Giulietta (Donatella Finocchiaro, "On the Way Home") decides to cater to the tourists for one summer to earn the cash to get her and her son on "Terraferma."

Cowriter (with Vittorio Moroni)/Emanuele Crialese's ("Respiro") last film, "Golden Door," addressed the plight of Italian immigrants traveling to America at the turn of the century. With "Terraferma," he looks at today's Italy as the destination, countering waves of tourists taking over with desperate refugees looking for a safe haven.

The film's beginnings are almost comical.  The none-too-bright Filippo is eager to please, dancing on the bow of Ernesto's boat.  He's clearly a natural on the sea, but Nino keeps enticing him onto land, gifting him with a red scooter after his father's memorial service. He finds three young tourists - two guy and a girl named Maura (Martina Codecasa, "I Am Love") - to bring home to mom, who shows them the reasonable, spacious rooms with a view, then retires to her new temporary set up in the garage with Filippo.  But when those illegals come to shore, the heavily pregnant Sara (Timnit T.) and her young son end up finding harbor in Guilietta's garage and Fillipo gets a first hand look at both of his islands' 'invaders' while his family faces off over morality vs. economic survival.  Crialese has made Guilietta and her son his pivots with Ernesto and Nino his stakes.

There have been a number of immigration movies coming from Europe - Michael Winterbottom's "In This World," Philippe Lioret's "Welcome" and Aki Kaurismäki's "Le Havre" spring to mind - all of them sympathetic to the plight of the immigrant.  And while the latter two also mine the plight of those who would lend a helping hand, Crialese goes a bit deeper here.

The film features some stunning imagery.  Ernesto visits the police station, surrounded by flopping, silvery fish delivered in protest by his compadres.  Partying tourists form a pyramid from which they dive into the blue, blue ocean.  In a nightmarish scene, Filippo takes his uncle's boat to give Maura her ride under cover of night only to spy a wave of exhausted Africans, black skin in black water reflecting moonlight like ghosts, swim towards and swamp the boat (we get a kind of overhead photo negative of this in the film's haunting final image).  And then there is the planed visage of Timnit T. whose gratitude knows no discouragement.

"Terraferma," Italy's submission for the 2012 Foreign Language Oscar and the winner of the Venice Film Festival's 2011 Special Jury Prize, uses an astonishingly beautiful setting to explore just who has a right to it.

B+
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