Fuocoammare (2016) [San Diego Italian Film Festival 2017]

In this documentary, the migrant crisis of Italy is shown through life in Lampedusa, a city by the sea and a port of entry to Europe for refugees.

Director Gianfranco Rosi takes a subject that has been seen on the news by most people and makes a documentary that gives it a personal touch. Here he takes a story that seems so far away for so many that it touches them less directly and makes it about a place people call home and about people desperate enough to get on boats that may not lead anywhere or get them there alive. He takes the plight of so many migrants and makes it one that resonates with the viewer whether they have ever moved far away, been desperate, or even thought of taking extreme measure, or not. The film is touching but unfortunately, the message and the feelings put into it feel a bit lost in how long it takes to show all of this.

The film’s cinematography by director Rosi shows the plight of these people and the lives of the locals in Lampedusa in a direct approach, without any fancy lighting or set-ups. The film feels very homey in the scenes at people’s house and very cold in the scenes with the migrants. It’s an interesting dichotomy that does add some interest, but the constant greyness of the images, while fitting the subject, loses the attention of viewers left and right. The film looks nice but is very grey and rather depressing looking. It works for the subject, but it also dulls the viewer’s attention by being so even and uneventful.

Fuocoammare, aka Fire at Sea in English, is a film with an important subject and message about humanity, the will to survive, and what some have to do to have a better life. It’s a good subject, more than worthy of exploration, but here this exploration feels a bit dull and is definitely way too slow. The film could have seen cuts of probably a half hour without the storytelling suffering at all. Fuocoammare is a decent movie with good intentions, but its runtime works against it in the end, making the viewer check out and not follow the story after about the halfway point.

San Diego Italian Film Festival runs October 4th until October 15th, 2017.