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Luzzu: A Maltese Music-less  Masterpiece




I once asked my  very close friend Sanjay Leela  Bhansali  why  Indian films use so  much background music. Is it because they fear silences? Do they fear the fact  that audiences, if not led into a scene by the music, would  simply  wander away?

 Luzzy a  lyrical  luminous Maltese film , suffers from no performance anxieties. To call it brave  would be patronizing. To call  it fearless  would be stating the obvious. To call it a masterpiece  would be close to the  truth. It is  a film that is not   charmed by its own excellence. The  first—time  director  Alex Camilleri’s  deep and incisive exploration  of  the  culture of fishery  in Malta is   buoyed by a purpose of purity that goes far beyond the call  of duty.

Of course a filmmaker must attempt to  make cinema that reflects on life. Luzzu is that rarity which  transcends  the boundaries of  cinema. The  film talks  to us in a language that is  so authentic , we are not listening to what the characters are saying. We are listening to what they mean by  their words.

Like Joachim Lafosse’s The Restless, Luzzu is  about a  nuclear  family  coping with  an illness. This  time  it is a little baby boy . Fisherman Jesmark(Jesmark Scicluna) and his  wife  Denise(Michela Farrugia) are  told by  the doctor that their newly-born baby suffers from a rare eating disorder and that he  would require special care.

Special  care  means  extra  expenditure. With his hand-to-mouth existence what is Jesmark supposed to do? Sell himself? Sell his  body parts?  Sell out to  the crime syndicate of the fishing industry in Malta?As   Jesmark  opts  for  the  last  option we see a  man so desperate  to  protect his family that  he would do anything.

Jesmark Scicluna’s fisherman’s act is  so scarily real it is  as though we are watching a meditative  documentary  on the fishing industry  in Malta. The  film is sparse, sinewy, deep and layered, providing the  thinking audience  with a  fertile food  for thought.

  It comes as  no surprise to know that the actor playing Jesmark is  not an actor  but a real fisherman. Only the one staring into the  abyss from the outside can  fully understand what it  means to be staring in the face of impoverishment.

His wife too is  starkly  played by Michela Farrugia. I have not seen  the work  of either actor earlier . But I would like to know if Scicluna  can play a non-fisherman  just as well? I am sure he  can. It is not about WHOM he plays  but HOW he  plays it  that makes this performance so  self effacingly underscored  by brilliance.

 The  breathtaking  cinematography(by Léo Lefèvre)  looks at the deceptively calm  sea with the  cautious wonderment of a man close to Nature  yet intimidated  by its unpredictability. The  rituals  and  routines  of a fishing village are  adeptly captured. The  boat is seen as a sacred shrine  to a divine  vocation. When  Jesmark is  forced  to sell  it we know  won’t  survive the onslaught  of  despair that has  clenched  his family.

He  must bear the taunts  of wealthy mother-in-law. But he must not show his contempt for wealth.  It is  money makes the world  go around.

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