Fire at Sea
Impact | VIFF Impact
Gianfranco Rosi’s (Sacro GRA) quietly powerful observational documentary chronicles life on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the focal point for Europe’s ongoing refugee/migrant crisis. Rosi takes a two-pronged approach here: alongside on-the-spot coverage of the Italian coastguard—which comes off as heroic—rescuing predominantly African refugees from boats adrift in the Mediterranean, he intersperses scenes of the day-to-day lives of the island’s modest inhabitants. So we see the distress and imagine the unimaginable when faced with migrants trying to cope, but we also see how the islanders—not so much inured to the suffering, but wearied by its seeming endlessness—must still go to work, feed their children, etc. These juxtapositions contribute to the force of Rosi’s brilliant film, which exists at the point where reportage meets cinematic poetry. It is harrowing, thoughtful and deeply moving by turns.
“Overall, Fire at Sea is a genuine triumph for Rosi, its distinctive formal strategy respectful of its subjects and offering a perfect expressive conduit for the director’s characteristic musing on how film might bring points of contact between seemingly distant poles of human experience. It may not grab you by the lapels and preach to you, but its quiet intensity ultimately offers more satisfying rewards, exquisitely enhanced by Rosi’s painterly eye for Lampedusa’s magical vistas of land and sea… Moral courage and filmic artistry exist side by side in this essential offering from a director gradually earning the right to be thought of as one of the greats of our era…”—Trevor Johnston, Sight & Sound
Golden Bear, Berlin 16