Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"This is a clear-eyed view of the choices Jesmark and those like him are facing, showing just how complex the situation is, cutting beyond work to community and culture." | Photo: Inigo Taylor

Anyone who has ever visited Malta, will be familiar with the small, brightly coloured luzzu fishing boats with their eyes of Osiris looking out from the prow. They - and those who sail them - now get to take centre stage in Alex Camilleri's emotionally resonant neorealist drama.

Jesmark (non-professional Jesmark Scicluna, not that you would know it from his screen presence here), is from a long family tradition of fishermen, his own baby footprint stamped on his boat. Fishing is no easy career in the modern world, with Jesmark facing the specific problem of an expensive leak. The luzzu isn’t his only baby, however, and his newborn son is also facing growth problems – problems that also require cash that he and his wife Denise (Michaela Farrugia) can ill afford.

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Camilleri allows the craft of the fisherman and the tensions of their profession to emerge by degrees against the backdrop of this situation – exacerbated by Denise’s wealthy, interfering mother-in-law, who thinks Jesmark should pack the whole thing in. We see the physicality of the trade as he and his friend David (David Scicluna, Jesmark’s real-life cousin and fellow non-professional) go about their business, feel the conflict when they reel in a swordfish that, though dead, they have to throw back because it is out of season.

Back on land, the fish sales business is also cut-throat and Camilleri gradually reveals the net of corruption to be wide and deep. Small fry like Jesmark can easily get caught up in it before they realise just how morally compromising it can be. Camilleri also spares a thought for migrant fishermen, living on their boats, who while adding to the issues the Maltese fishermen are facing on one level, are hardly living the dream. Desperation can be a strong driver, especially when flouting the law is so much more lucrative than obeying it and so many of the enforcers seem to have their noses in the trough.

Although Camilleri’s film also touches on environmental issues that are seeing the depletion of fish stocks as our waters warm and on the European Union economic carrots being held out to tempt fisherfolk away from the sea, he wisely keeps the human drama front and centre and it comes as no surprise to see Ramin Bahrani’s name among the producers. Interludes in which the fishermen talk about their work appear to be almost documentary in nature, adding to the sense of deep community tradition that, though on the wane, is still being maintained by many. This is counterbalanced by every parent’s desire to want something better for their children than they have had, a wish vocalised here by Denise. This is a clear-eyed view of the choices Jesmark and those like him are facing, showing just how complex the situation is, cutting beyond work to community and culture.

As the men struggle with the challenges of the modern world, the eyes of the boats look on – if they could weep, they would.

Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2021
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A struggling Maltese fisherman faces tough choices about the future.

Director: Alex Camilleri

Writer: Alex Camilleri

Starring: Michaela Farrugia, Jesmark Scicluna, Michaela Farrugia, Jesmark Scicluna

Year: 2021

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: Malta

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