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Luzzu does neorealism right

Natural lighting and the struggles of everyday life

Luzzu: neorealism runs deep in these waters.
Luzzu: neorealism runs deep in these waters.

Author's note: an hour after the paper went to press, I received a note informing me that the distributor delayed the virtual engagement at the Digital Gym by one week. Luzzu streams starting on November 12. Great things come to those who wait.

I’ll let you in on a secret: neorealism originated in France, not Italy. Don’t believe me? Luchino Visconti, the father of neorealism, was Jean Renoir’s assistant director on Toni. Check it out. Visconti’s name was evoked as part of the promotion for Alex Camilleri’s Luzzu. Only in these misinformative times would critics liken the Matt Damon vehicle Stillwater to a work of Italian neorealism. Would Vittorio De Sica have starred Robert Ryan and Bob Watson as the leads in The Bicycle Thieves? Of course not! Recognizable faces had no place in a national film movement (not genre!) that prided itself on casting realistic-looking non professionals bathed in natural lighting and acting out the struggles of everyday life.

What’s a luzzu? A traditional Maltese fishing boat, an opalescent vessel bedecked in polychromatic hues with two eyes poking out from the bow. Alone, in a sea of nowhere, Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) carefully unloops a net in the water that is brighter than the lives of the characters it presents. The craft belonged to his father and grandfather before him. The baby’s footprint stamped next to the wheel belongs to Jesmark. It’s his hope that someday his newborn son will follow in dad’s footstep. For that to happen, two things must first be healed: his boat the Tu Palma, and his baby. Keeping the boat in drydock for however long it takes to repair a cracked hull is nothing compared to the level of stress that awaits Jesmark and his wife Denise’s (Michela Farrugia) visit to the family pediatrician. The boy isn’t growing properly and needs a specialist that his parents can’t afford. His job as a fisherman doesn’t reel in enough capital to provide for a family, and the thought of Denise relying on her mother as a source of income angers the routinely hotheaded Jesmark.

Some days, there just ain’t no fish. There’s work to be found, but our environmentally conscious angler refuses to answer an ad from a seabed-desecrating corporation looking to hire a trawler. Too many laws have been put in place that are both taking a cut out of his business and treating Jesmark and his partner as if they are criminals. It’s closed season, a time when swordfish is not on the menu. Just as De Sica’s thief stole a bicycle to provide for his family, Jesmark finds himself perfectly suited for a career in the black market. The boss admires his ability to transform leftover fish into scallops and offers him a job. Jesmark has never left the island on which he was born. His newfound partner in crime reminds him that a fish who stays in the bowl never grows.

The film goes exactly where one doesn’t expect. Characters doubling-back on each other supply the action; the only weapon in the piece is a knife used to cut nets. Jesmark lives a life of “us against them” until the tides turn and he becomes one of them. His transformative voyage of discovery ends with our hero literally following doctor’s orders. He’s a better man for it. And you will be, too. ★★★★★

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

The Adventures of Saul Bellow — Philip Roth, no less, lauded mentor Saul Bellow as the first Jewish author to gain acceptance in a Christian world. He was championed by readers and peers alike as the literary voice who defined his generation. What became of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author? Long before the woke brigade loomed on the horizon, Bellow was called out for a pattern of sexist and bigoted thinking. A racially-charged passage from Mr. Sammler’s Planet is given airing by both denouncer and defender. The sons of three of Bellow’s wives are on hand to express undying love for their mothers. (At one point or another, Bellow dragged all three exes through his lettered swamps.) Filmmaker Asaf Galay tenders an array of friends, family, and scholarly interviews, plus readings from the author’s works. A staging of The Adventures of Augie March, hailed by many as the great American novel, runs throughout, and there’s just enough critical commentary to present an objective overview of Bellow’s life. One question continues to puzzle and astound: in light of the nose-hair freezing winters, what kind of a Chicagoan has a summer home in Vermont? When it was over, I dusted off my copy of Herzog and placed it on the nightstand. You’ll have two chances to catch this San Diego Jewish Film Festival midseason screening. Watch it onsite at David & Dorothea Garfield Theatre on November 10 at 7:00 pm or virtually on November 11 (48 hours on demand). For more information visit: 2021novmidseason.eventive.org/schedule. 2021. — S.M. ★★★

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Luzzu: neorealism runs deep in these waters.
Luzzu: neorealism runs deep in these waters.

Author's note: an hour after the paper went to press, I received a note informing me that the distributor delayed the virtual engagement at the Digital Gym by one week. Luzzu streams starting on November 12. Great things come to those who wait.

I’ll let you in on a secret: neorealism originated in France, not Italy. Don’t believe me? Luchino Visconti, the father of neorealism, was Jean Renoir’s assistant director on Toni. Check it out. Visconti’s name was evoked as part of the promotion for Alex Camilleri’s Luzzu. Only in these misinformative times would critics liken the Matt Damon vehicle Stillwater to a work of Italian neorealism. Would Vittorio De Sica have starred Robert Ryan and Bob Watson as the leads in The Bicycle Thieves? Of course not! Recognizable faces had no place in a national film movement (not genre!) that prided itself on casting realistic-looking non professionals bathed in natural lighting and acting out the struggles of everyday life.

What’s a luzzu? A traditional Maltese fishing boat, an opalescent vessel bedecked in polychromatic hues with two eyes poking out from the bow. Alone, in a sea of nowhere, Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) carefully unloops a net in the water that is brighter than the lives of the characters it presents. The craft belonged to his father and grandfather before him. The baby’s footprint stamped next to the wheel belongs to Jesmark. It’s his hope that someday his newborn son will follow in dad’s footstep. For that to happen, two things must first be healed: his boat the Tu Palma, and his baby. Keeping the boat in drydock for however long it takes to repair a cracked hull is nothing compared to the level of stress that awaits Jesmark and his wife Denise’s (Michela Farrugia) visit to the family pediatrician. The boy isn’t growing properly and needs a specialist that his parents can’t afford. His job as a fisherman doesn’t reel in enough capital to provide for a family, and the thought of Denise relying on her mother as a source of income angers the routinely hotheaded Jesmark.

Some days, there just ain’t no fish. There’s work to be found, but our environmentally conscious angler refuses to answer an ad from a seabed-desecrating corporation looking to hire a trawler. Too many laws have been put in place that are both taking a cut out of his business and treating Jesmark and his partner as if they are criminals. It’s closed season, a time when swordfish is not on the menu. Just as De Sica’s thief stole a bicycle to provide for his family, Jesmark finds himself perfectly suited for a career in the black market. The boss admires his ability to transform leftover fish into scallops and offers him a job. Jesmark has never left the island on which he was born. His newfound partner in crime reminds him that a fish who stays in the bowl never grows.

The film goes exactly where one doesn’t expect. Characters doubling-back on each other supply the action; the only weapon in the piece is a knife used to cut nets. Jesmark lives a life of “us against them” until the tides turn and he becomes one of them. His transformative voyage of discovery ends with our hero literally following doctor’s orders. He’s a better man for it. And you will be, too. ★★★★★

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

The Adventures of Saul Bellow — Philip Roth, no less, lauded mentor Saul Bellow as the first Jewish author to gain acceptance in a Christian world. He was championed by readers and peers alike as the literary voice who defined his generation. What became of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author? Long before the woke brigade loomed on the horizon, Bellow was called out for a pattern of sexist and bigoted thinking. A racially-charged passage from Mr. Sammler’s Planet is given airing by both denouncer and defender. The sons of three of Bellow’s wives are on hand to express undying love for their mothers. (At one point or another, Bellow dragged all three exes through his lettered swamps.) Filmmaker Asaf Galay tenders an array of friends, family, and scholarly interviews, plus readings from the author’s works. A staging of The Adventures of Augie March, hailed by many as the great American novel, runs throughout, and there’s just enough critical commentary to present an objective overview of Bellow’s life. One question continues to puzzle and astound: in light of the nose-hair freezing winters, what kind of a Chicagoan has a summer home in Vermont? When it was over, I dusted off my copy of Herzog and placed it on the nightstand. You’ll have two chances to catch this San Diego Jewish Film Festival midseason screening. Watch it onsite at David & Dorothea Garfield Theatre on November 10 at 7:00 pm or virtually on November 11 (48 hours on demand). For more information visit: 2021novmidseason.eventive.org/schedule. 2021. — S.M. ★★★

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