FIRE AT SEA (Fuocoammare)
Kino Lorber
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: B+
Director:  Gianfranco Rossi
Written by: Gianfranco Rossi
Cast: Pietro Bartolo, Samuele Pucillo
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/24/16
Opens: October 21, 2016

When the S.S. St. Louis filled with Jews escaping from fascist Europe tried to disembark in the U.S. they were refused entry. The ship, minus a few who committed suicide, was sent back whence it came, the passengers presumably sent to concentration camps.

As though history were repeating itself, during the recent presidential campaign, Donald Trump blasted Hillary Clinton on her plan to accept a large population of Syrian refugees. In Germany, which had the good heart to admit Syrian refugees, a backlash among the German population developed.  Fearful that at best the new immigrants would take jobs away from German citizens and at worst that some of the refugees had given their allegiance to ISIS, the German population took a turn rightward, almost foreshadowing the disastrous U.S. campaign.

It is therefore gratifying to note the hospitality that Italy is showing to refugees not only from Syria but also from Niger, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Chad, and Eritrea.  As rickety boats sail from North Africa leaving dead bodies done in by dehydration, Italian liners are picking up the refugees after locating their geographical position in the ocean.  The hapless North Africans, fleeing from civil war and ISIS, are disembarking in Lampedusa, an island 150 miles from Sicily and the nearest European location from the war torn areas.  Gianfranco Rossi’s documentary, which Italy is submitting for Oscar consideration, runs like a shaggy dog story, mixing the treatment of the refugees by the wonderful Italian people with a tale of general life on this remote island.

The principal character is Samuele Pucillo, a boy of about fourteen, who passes time with his friends on this barren island shooting at plants with a sling shot.  Rossi lets the actions speak for themselves: there is no narration, there are no interviews.  Some of the takes are long.  This, then, is an unusual documentary that rubs against the conventions of the genre.

Samuele’s father, a fisherman who fears that days of bad weather are hurting his chances of making a living, frequently takes the boy out to sea in his boat, while his grandmother spends time scaling the fish and cooking pasta.  These people may be poor but you see how they savor their spaghetti with thick tomato sauce, the sauce probably cooking for hours to bring out the depths of flavor.  Samuele in one instance sees a doctor who serves as an optometrist, fitting the boy with an assortment of lenses and urging him to wear a patch over his good eye to allow his lazy eye to regain normal vision. This wonderful man also treats the hundreds of refugees, in one instance slapping an ultrasound over one woman to declare that she will give birth to twins.

The Italian men, saviors, really, process the new migrants, checking them for diseases like chicken pox, and in some cases wrapping the dead presumably for burial at sea.  The migrants divert themselves playing soccer, Syria vs. Eritrea and the like.  It looks as though this wonderful European country is, in effect, turning its back on the likes of French politician Marine Le Pen and on our own Donald Trump.

This loosely constructed film switches effortlessly from general life in Lampedusa to the dramatic rescue of desperate North Africans and back again.  We trust that these grateful Africans, some of whom “drank piss” to stay alive during the long voyage on makeshift boats, will adapt to their new lives and if really lucky, will come to enjoy pasta vongole and express themselves by waving their arms about.

Unrated.  108 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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