Fire at Sea [Fuocoammare]

(Italy 2016)

“It is the duty of every human, if you’re human, to help these people.”

—Dr. Pietro Bartolo

Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea is inconsistent. On the plus side, it’s a beautifully shot film that recalls Italian neorealism with its ordinary characters, setting, and action. He follows a few different narratives, including a doctor, Pietro Bartolo; a pubescent boy, Samuele Pucillo; an old lady; and throngs of refugees mostly from Africa and the Middle East who arrive by boat to the sleepy Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, where these fishing townsfolk live. Using a kind of day-in-the-life approach, Rosi contrasts the lives of those who have all one way or another ended up on this island. Dr. Bartolo’s job is to examine the refugees as they arrive, and his commentary on what he’s seen is sad. Pucillo is a fisherman’s kid who’s nursing a lazy eye. The old lady (who’s name I didn’t catch and I’m not going to find it now) listens to the radio in her kitchen and requests songs for her son, who’s away at sea. I think. The refugees are something else altogether, and a few get camera time to tell their stories. There’s a great scene where a bunch of them sing a haunting African chant/rap about their persecutors. There’s another where a group of men divides up to play soccer, and we get insight into their allegiances.

On the negative side, Fire at Sea meanders. A lot. Rosi doesn’t exactly connect the refugee crisis to the islanders, so Pucillo and the old lady seem superfluous; their stories actually interfere with what I was far more interested in: the refugees. It’s a pretty and non-judgmental film, but it doesn’t take a stand. I sense a point about loss in here somewhere, but it doesn’t quite get there. I was bored during most of it, I’m sorry to say.

114 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) C

Chicago International Film Festival

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