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TERRAFERMA (director/writer: Emanuele Crialese; screenwriter: Vittorio Moroni; cinematographer: Fabio Cianchetti; editor: Simona Paggi; music: Franco Piersanti; cast: Donatella Finocchiaro (Giula), Beppe Fiorello (Nino), Filippo Pucillo (Filippo), Mimmo Cuticchio (Ernesto), Timnit T. (Sara, pregnant mom),Rubel Tsegay Abraha (Ethiopian Boy), Filippo Scarafia (Marco), Martina Codecasa (Maura), Tiziana Lodato (Maria); Runtime:94; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Riccardo Tozzi/Giovanni Stabilini/Marco Chimenz; Cohen Media Group; 2011-Italy/France-in Italian with English subtitles)
“Fails to be convincing when it resorts to a paternalistic lecture on the right way to behave in modern times.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Italian filmmaker Emanuele Crialese(“Once We Strangers”/”Respiro”/”The Golden Door”) directs a poignant social conscious film about the changing world and how confusing are the new moral laws for many to follow, but fails to be convincing when it resorts to a paternalistic lecture on the right way to behave in modern times. The film is co-written by the director and Vittorio Moroni.

On the small remote scenic island of Linosa, off the Sicily coast, the economically struggling elderly Ernesto (Mimmo Cuticchio) begrudgingly clings to the old ways as a fisherman, despite how much things have changed and that fishing is a dying entity on the touristy island. Ernesto’s prospering materialistic son (Beppe Fiorello) wants dad to throw in with him in his thriving summer tourist beach business, but is rebuffed. A few years earlier, Ernesto lost his son Pietro to an accident at sea. Pietro’s immature and rudderless 20-year-old son Filippo (Filippo Pucillo) idolizes his grandpa Ernesto and regularly fishes with him on Pietro’s fishing boat. Meanwhile Ernesto’s feisty daughter-in-law Giulietta (Donatella Finocchiaro) babies her son Filippo, to his annoyance, and admonishes Ernesto for not changing with the times. She also tells her son their only chance to make a better life is to move to a place that will offer them greater opportunities-like the mainland.

It’s summer and tourists flock to the beautiful island to vacation. Giulietta rents a refurbished apartment to three carefree Italian tourists from the city, the same age as Filippo. two whiny males and the liberated female Maura (Martina Codecasa). Filippo has eyes for the girl, but it turns out events will make it not possible for them to make a love connection.

When fishing Ernesto spots African illegals and calls it in to the Coast Guard, but takes a risk by fleeing before the Coast Guard arrive with a family he rescues in the water–a pregnant Ethiopian mother (Timnit T.) and her young boy (Rubel Tsegay Abraha). He does so because that’s the old fishermen code-to always rescue someone in the water. It results in the police the next day confiscating Ernesto’s boat for taking the illegals and he thereby loses the ability to earn his livelihood. Though Giulietta wants them out immediately, the illegal gives birth to a daughter and she’s allowed to remain until she’s well enough to travel to Turin to reunite with her working husband.

Crialese paints a bleak picture for both the illegals and the old time Sicilian fisherman unable to change with the faster and more complex times, but despite covering an important topical issue about immigration the film leaves us with little to ponder about what is the right course for either individuals or the governments to follow. What we see instead is that both the illegals and fisherman are fighting for their survival, and both won’t make it unless there’s a further change in the world for more compassion and understanding to their plight.

It’s a minor drama that has little resonance as a political film, as it hammers out shaky forgettable points about the ways of the modern world. Though competently made, it’s at its best only when it paints an atmospheric picture of a beautiful island coming under assault from all sides to change with the times or suffer the consequences.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”