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Saturday, April 01, 2017

Fire at Sea

Inexplicably, Fire at Sea was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the last Oscars. It is, mostly, a look at life on Lampedusa, an island roughly equidistant from Africa and Sicily, and therefore a sort of weigh station for refugees. An opening title card tells us 400,000 refugees came through there, and that 15,000 died.

Here's the problem--the movie gives us those facts, but then doesn't show us the impact on the island. There are basically two narrative threads. One shows refugees being rescued (many of them are from African countries: Nigeria, Somalia, Eritrea, etc.) and treated very kindly. The other follows a kind of Tom Sawyer-like kid, Samuele, as he leads his ordinary life. He makes a slingshot. He goes to the eye doctor. He shares a spaghetti meal with his father and grandmother.

At no time does Samuele or his family make any commentary on the refugee situation. It's as if their footage was shot on a different island. The only person who appears in both threads is a humane doctor who treats both refugees (he takes an ultrasound of a pregnant woman, who is having twins, and tries to determine the sex of the babies) and Samuele's difficulty breathing (we never do find out what his problem is).

None of the refugees are given an identity, so it's difficult to get involved in their story. The closest is one man who sings a song in English about how he and his people left Nigeria and made their way across the desert in Libya, and many of them were imprisoned there. Lesson: don't end up in a Libyan prison.

The director is Gianfranco Rosi, and I would hate to see what he left on the cutting room floor, because frankly, Fire at Sea is a snooze.

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