By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Fire at Sea‘s Oscar nomination may have seemed pre-ordained, what with it’s capturing the tap overall prize at the Berlin Film Festival in front of several high-profile dramas. Still, an artsy foreign language doc tackling the migrant crisis in unyielding terms?
What, no crowd-pleasing music docs this year?
Fire at Sea actually tells two stories- that of a pubescent Sicilian boy bumming around, making slingshots, eating his grandmother’s amazing-looking pasta dishes, and getting his lazy eye diagnosed, but also that of the waves of rickety boats washing ashore on his isle, or worse, stranded and pleading for aid as their inhabitants slowly die on the unforgiving sea.
Director Gianfranco Rosi really employs an interesting approach, not particularly with the way he intercuts the two stories together or plays them off each other, but just in the fact that he chooses to tell both in the same film. The first is a naturalistic slice of life that meanders aimlessly but interestingly through life in a place that feels like it hasn’t changed immensely in the last five decades.
When’s the last time you saw a homemade slingshot?
The second, though, is probably what has earned this film the ac claim it has. Rosi’s cameras capture the plight of these huddled masses, yearning to be free…
But fuck everything America stands for, right? *Cough*
*Cough* Don’t know what happened there.
Anyway, Rosi’s cameras capture these poor people, coming from circumstances so desperate that this suicide run feels like a logical move to make, and believe me, they understand it’s a suicide run now, the whole world does, as they struggle for breath or cling frantically to overloaded boats so plentiful the coast guards of each of the Mediterranean European nations can’t hope to keep up. Fire at Sea leaves no doubt as to the terrible price they are willing to pay, and are paying.
It’s hard to reconcile that approach, though, which makes it both intriguing and perhaps a little purposefully obtuse. The fact the boy’s life never crosses with probably the most important and encompassing event to happen to his island since WWII seems like an omission, and keeping them apart implies a message, but what that message might be is purely a matter of conjecture. This would be fine, if any of that conjecture arrived at an explanation as interesting as its omission.
Fire at Sea is both a document of a crisis of staggering proportions that will define our time and a naturalistic portrait of a boy’s life. Both are good, but what they’re doing in the same film is of some question.
Fire at Sea (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for slingshots
Take a Drink: for delicious-looking meals
Take a Drink: for each boat rescue
Take a Drink: for each refugee interview
Do a Shot: for horrors you’ll never forget