Sundance 2021 – Luzzu

It’s fitting that Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop, 99 Homes), one of the great filmmakers of the New Americana movement, is a producer of Luzzu, the debut from writer/director Alex Camerilli. I was pleased to find out that Camerilli has been learning from Bahrani over the past decade as an editor. You can definitely feel that Camerilli learned the right lessons from Bahrani, especially when it comes to directing non-actors and making you feel immediately on the ground with these characters.

Luzzu follows Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna, playing himself), a native of Malta and a fisherman by trade that finds his industry dying just as costs rise in his life to fix his boat and provide for his wife and child. Desperate, he turns to the black market of fishing to earn more money.

It sounds a lot more high-octane than it’s meant to. Camerilli is far less concerned with the stakes and dangers of working in the black market and more about what drives our character there and the human interactions he has with these people in this illegal industry. Camerilli based the film off of Jesmark’s life and by having him play himself he achieves a similar effect that Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Songs My Brothers Taught Me) has perfected in her films. They achieve a deeper human truth in building these fictional stories around the lives of these people and reach an authenticity and honesty that most films wish they could get to. 

Cinematographer Léo Lefèvre crafts some beautiful, grounded imagery that captures the natural beauty of Malta against the hardships of those in the fishing industry. Jesmark is honest in his scenes, and you never feel like these performers are forcing anything. The non-actors don’t stick out in a way that bad acting does, they just make the film more immediate and authentic.

Through his tale Camerilli touches on the pain of realizing the job you love is dying and cannot sustain you. Images of painted eyes on two boats staring at each other contains a lot to dissect. There’s been a rebirth in neo-realism in American films, and it’s exciting to see something similar from a country we hardly get any films from. It stumbles a bit in its final minutes but gets to the point it’s trying to make in the end.

It may sound like I’m talking about Bahrani and Zhao more than Camerilli here when it’s his film, but my point is that I’m already comparing him to some great filmmakers. He’s got a natural talent when it comes to neo-realism that I hope he continues on.

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