In “Luzzu”, it is about the slow elimination of ancient celebrations and traditions, the bureaucracy that imposes itself on something that has existed for centuries. “Luzzu”, named after the traditional boats of Maltese fishermen, rests in the troubled space between Tradition and modernity, where the “old ways” are not only devalued, but delinquent, erasing the past and facing an uncertain future. “Luzzu” does not ask so many questions, but poses the problem, in a quasi-documentary style, erasing the distance between the subject and the audience. “Luzzu” is not an assignment or a lecture. “Luzzu” is immersed in a rapidly disappearing world, and director Alex Camilleri approaches it sensitively, knowing that authenticity is essential to the way the film works. Camilleri is clearly influenced by Italian neorealism and contemporaries of this Tradition like the Dardennes and Ramin Bahrani (One of the producers of “Luzzu”). “Luzzu” is a moving portrait of a changing world and a man trying to survive the changes that a confusing outside world imposes on him.
Jesus (Jesmark Scicluna) goes out every day on his colorful Luzzu, inherited from his father, who himself inherited it from his father. Jesmark fishes all day and into the night and works to bring a full load home to sell at the local auction. EU rules have set limits on this old Tradition. The catching of certain fish during the “rest season” is illegal and the boats are subject to random checks by the official authorities, an outrage for these men who have been fishing since time immemorial. Jesus and his wife Denise (Michela Farrugia) have just had a baby, and the baby needs special care. They have no money. A hint of concern continues about the marriage, pushing the couple apart. In desperation, Jesus is lured into the delinquent world of the corrupt fishing industry. His Luzzu gushes from a leak and requires a complete overhaul, which also costs money. He splits his time between working at the Luzzu and his sketchy new appearance.
The Luzzus float in and out of the harbor, flashing with colors and personal details, painted in yellow, green, sapphire, with bulging wooden eyes on the bow, eyes that look into a world that no longer makes sense. A gigantic container port dominates the port, the modern world forces fish out of the port. Jesus turns around in the only life he has ever known and sees how it escapes him. Inside the boat is a yellow-painted footprint of the baby, his own. What can he pass on to his own son? The government offers Buyouts to fishermen. But what would Jesus do instead? Fishing is all he knows.
Camilleri, a first director, embarks on this world. In close collaboration with cameraman Leo Lefèvre, “Luzzu” captures the celebration, the daily tasks of this work: catching fish, putting them in the ice for the return, cleaning the fish, repairing the nets, towing on Board A prohibited Swordfish before being sent back. Nothing is explained. They understand what is happening by watching. The sun, the sound of the waves, the traffic on the roads in the background, all come with a tangible reality. Camilleri is American, but his family emigrated from Malta as a child. He grew up in snowy Minnesota, away from that salty breeze. He looks at Malta with the eyes of an exile, and the perception of their homeland by exiles is often strong and sharp. Camilleri approached Malta mostly curious. Frustrated by the lack of an independent Maltese film culture and frustrated by the fact that Malta is often used to replace other places in larger films, Camilleri decided to travel to Malta to study the story he could tell. He was fascinated by fishermen.
The cast consists of non-actors. He cast the real Fishermen and Fishermen, including Jesmark Scicluna. Everyone in the Movie actually lives in this world. David Scicluna plays Jesus’ friend, who tries to play by the rules and help Jesus. (In real life, the two are Cousins.) Camilleri worked with both of them, made them improvise scenes and allowed them to do exactly what they would do in these specific circumstances. They are both rivets. When you action, there is real pain behind it. The chaotic shouting is the real thing, and there’s nothing like the real thing. Chloé Zhao used a similar approach in “Songs My Brothers Taught Me”, “the Rider” and — to a lesser extent — “Nomadland”.”Brady Jandreau, the central character of “The Rider”, was so uninterested in front of the camera that he was ashamed of some professional actors. The same goes for Scicluna, a handsome man, but burdened, his shoulders tense with worry, full of tender love for his son (watch him look at the baby), but scared for him, for himself. Jesmar’s slide into crime is all the more painful because his love for the Luzzu, his family and the port is so obvious.
Authenticity cannot be falsified. It may seem too simplistic or too obvious a statement, but a Movie like “Luzzu” shows the truth.