MOVIE REVIEW: Fire at Sea

Documentary about the island of Lampedusa Italy the first point that most refugee ships reach trying to escape the threat of ISIS.

The crisis facing thousands upon thousands of people fleeing parts of Africa due to the regimes and terror organisations in Africa is hitting our screens and newspapers every day.  It feels as though we just hear of one overcrowded boat either making it to shore or sinking nearly every day.  This documentary attempts to show the side of the people who are trying to make it to a better life, a life we all take for granted and the lives of some of the people on Lampedusa, a small island of Italy.

The documentary shows the powers that be saving and trying to regulate what happens to the many refugees that actually make it to shore, then cutting back to one 10-year-old boy whose family has lived on the island for generations.  The problem that you get while watching the film, and this shouldn’t take anything away from the serious humanitarian issue, is that the film makers have this current and important issue to deal with and they skirt around it.  From time to time dipping in to show the horrors of the situation and then going back to some footage of Samuele, the 10-year-old boy who is going on 40.  I don’t want you to get me wrong here.  He’s a great character, an old man in a young boys body, and if the film was just about him coming to manhood it would have been a better thing altogether.  They could have then dealt with the tragic refugee crisis in a different film.

My problem is that while I’m sitting here on my own at nearly half past one in the morning my biggest torment is giving this a 3 rather than a 2.  I know that sounds stupid, I know it’s a first world problem, and I know that in a few days time I’ll regret it.  The thing is though that there are two films in this movie.  I want to see Samuele growing up with his slingshot, trying to be a fisherman and boatman like the other members of his family.  I want to know more about the hardships of the island where the sole income seems to be from the bounty of the sea.  However, I want to also see the horrors of the reality of these ships that are 10 or twenty times over capacity, braving the sometimes fierce nature that carries them to hopefully a better life.  I want to see the scumbag businessmen that sell spaces on rotting pieces of wood to these poor souls for over €1000 a go.  Men, Women, Children, and all crammed into a space that would make a battery hen blush.  These are two different films, two different sides of the coin, and the problem is that we’re shown one and then the other and you can’t get emotionally attached enough to either.

The positives here are the real story of Samuel is one that I enjoyed to a point, there is also some beautiful underwater footage, and when they manage to stay on the refugee crisis and those who work to help them you feel the painful emotions that they go through.  The Doctor that examines those who are lucky enough to make it to shore shares his feelings and his nightmares over finding the countless dead  and dying on each vessel that comes to his realm of jurisdiction.  You honestly feel heartbroken for him.  He is trying to help and yet it’s destroying him at the same time.

The refugee crisis is an important issue and at times Fire at Sea nails the horrific realities that our fellow humans are going through for what we all take for granted.  I’m not going to labour the point here, I’m sure that there is a way to turn this into two separate films and not lose the charm of the island life with this boy and the overwhelming sadness of those fleeing their truly horrid lives.  I just think that if film makers are going to show the facts then they’ve got to do so in a way that hammers home to each viewer the cost that some are willing to pay for the freedoms we love and care nothing for at the same time.  Sadly for me this failed to do that.

Director: Gianfranco Rosi
Writers: Gianfranco Rosi, Carla Cattani
Stars: Pietro Bartolo, Giuseppe Fragapane, Samuele Caruana

See full cast & crew

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