Sundance 2021 review: ‘Luzzu’ shines in its authenticity.

LUZZU

Jesmark, a Maltese fisherman, contends with a newfound leak in his wooden luzzu boat. Barely getting by, he sees his livelihood—and a family tradition from generations before him—imperiled by diminishing harvests, a ruthless fishing industry, and a stagnating ecosystem. Desperate to provide for his wife and their newborn son, whose growth impediment requires treatment, Jesmark gradually slips into an illicit black-market fishing operation.

I have actually spent a few days on the island of Malta. When I met my husband he told me that his heritage was Scottish, Irish, and Maltese. I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. I’m half Italian and was completely unaware of the small, bustling island off the coast of Italy. Even with my little experience in the area, I can attest to the authenticity you get in LUZZU. Pre-pandemic, it was filled with tourists taking ferry boats from Sicily or to the smaller island of Gozo, where they actually filmed some of Game Of Thrones. It boasts crystal blue waters and ancient architecture. It also contains kind, hardworking locals that have been thriving in the fishing industry for a long, long, time. Now, things are changing and everyone is being forced to adapt. LUZZU takes all that local beauty and then gives us a weighty story we can sink our teeth into.

Jes is down on his luck in every way possible. He’s not catching anything that he can sell. His new son is not growing as he should. His mother-in-law doesn’t respect him. Jes dives headfirst into the black market fishing industry. While he fixes his luzzu (which is his wooden fishing boat) by hand, he snatches up any side hustle that comes his way. It’s heartwrenching to watch him struggle. You just want him to make it. As the danger grows, so do the emotional consequences.

Alex Camilleri- Maltese America filmmaker of LUZZU

To think this cast isn’t filled with professional actors is mind-blowing. They are beyond phenomenal. Jesmark Scicluna as Jes will tear at your soul. He leaves his heart in the ocean along with his family’s history. Combined with the handheld camerawork, Luzzu is immediately grounded and compelling. It puts us right alongside Jes. This story is universally relatable as the stress and anxiety that comes with being a parent, especially one with special needs, is oftentimes overwhelming. Add in circumstances beyond your control and you will do anything to protect them. The issues of identity are far more than surface level. The ending may destroy you. It felt devastating but incredibly honest. Sundance audiences will respect writer/director Alex Camilleri‘s choice to be bold in his storytelling. I cannot wait to see what comes next, especially since his upcoming film will also be set in Malta. If Luzzu is any indication, we’re just getting started.

About Liz Whittemore

Liz grew up in northern Connecticut and was memorizing movie dialogue from Shirley Temple to A Nightmare on Elm Street at a very early age. She will watch just about any film all the way through (no matter how bad) just to prove a point. A loyal New Englander, a lover of Hollywood, and true inhabitant of The Big Apple.