Luzzu review – moving account of Maltese fishers in choppy waters

·1 min read

On the inside of the cheerfully painted traditional Maltese fishing boat (or luzzu) with which Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) ekes out a living is the imprint of a pair of baby’s feet and a name. His name. This boat has seen three generations of his family grow up; it has provided for the family of his father and his grandfather. But now, as Jesmark daubs his own infant son’s soles with paint to continue the tradition, he knows deep down that time is running out for this way of life. Strict new fishing regulations and a dangerous undertow of corruption mean that Jesmark is struggling to keep his head above water as the debts weigh him down. His pride is wounded – the luzzu boats are more than just a livelihood for the men who sail them. They carry generations’ worth of stories and legends.

There are similarities, thematic and otherwise, with Mark Jenkin’s Cornish-set Bait. Both deal with the way “progress” erodes traditional fishing communities; both are made by film-makers with a link to the location (writer-director Alex Camilleri is Maltese American by descent); both are driven by the muscular authenticity of the central performances. In the case of Luzzu, the magnetic Scicluna is a Maltese fisherman in real life, and part of a cast predominantly made up of non-professional actors. His performance is impressively complex: a knotty tangle of confrontational swagger – the brash confidence that earns him a lucrative job with a black-market fish trader – and the soul-sapping self-loathing of a man who feels a failure in the shadow of forebears.