Alex Camilleri
Release Year:
Length (mins):
US, Malta
Alex Camilleri
Jesmark Scicluna
Sundance 2021 Winner World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award Acting
Screening Date:
  • 19 Mar 2024
  • Categories:

    A man risks everything to provide for his wife and newborn son by entering Malta's black-market fishing industry. Astonishing lead performance by a non-actor (and real-life fisherman). This is the first Maltese film shown by GFS.

    Film Notes

    Luzzu review – moving account of Maltese fishers in choppy waters.

    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.

    , The Observer, 28th May 2022.

    Review: A triumph of classical storytelling, ‘Luzzu’ captures the struggles of a fisherman.

    The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

    Bright-colored vessels with curious carved eyes, luzzu fishing boats dot the coast of Malta, an island nation most often seen in cinema as an old-world Mediterranean location. In Maltese American director Alex Camilleri’s terrific debut, “Luzzu,” only the country’s second-ever entry for the Academy Awards, they float as symbolic anchors to tradition.

    Successfully praying at the altar of the masters of Italian neorealism (Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti), Camilleri weaves a stirringly nuanced and dazzlingly shot humanistic drama at once focused on Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna), a financially strapped lifelong fisherman and young father, and modern society’s unappeasable march in favor of production.

    Anger mounts in Jesmark since regulations and large operations have made fishing untenable for independent mariners like him, driving many to leave for employment on trawlers or in factories. Still, he refuses to surrender the ancestral trade of his people. Jesmark’s own baby footprint stamped on his storied and tattered luzzu, passed down through generations, testifies to a deeply rooted legacy that may be in its final days.

    Referring to Scicluna simply as a nonprofessional actor seems reductive. A better description: He’s a previously undiscovered innate talent whose sun-toasted skin and pensive expression evoke the timelessness of ruggedly labored yet not unkind masculinity. In a performance of extraordinary subtlety and restrained fury, he carries the headstrong Jesmark into dabbling in riskier avenues for income to pay for his son’s medical expenses.

    The measured urgency in the movement of cinematographer Léo Lefèvre’s camera mimics that of the working-class hero’s plight to provide for his family. Postcard-ready vistas of Malta glide around gritty, much less flattering images of its underbelly, all submerged in Jon Natchez’s enrapturing score. Conflicted, Jesmark ponders whether to hold on to his identity or retire his father’s moving heirloom for the sake of survival in the tide of globalization.

    Sun-drenched “Luzzu” is an unaffected triumph with a simmering power, the type of deceivingly familiar film that helps us sail into a place and a lifestyle most of us ignore but that are made vividly compelling in the hand of a new storyteller with classically honed sensibilities.

    CARLOS AGUILAR, Los Angeles Times, OCT. 21, 2021

    What you thought about Luzzu

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    7 (15%) 34 (72%) 6 (13%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
    Total Number of Responses: 47
    Film Score (0-5): 4.02

    Collated Response Comments

    82 members and guests attended the screening of Luzzu. There were 47 responses which is a response rate of 57% giving the film a rating of 4.02. The Quiet Girl is still the film of the season with a score of 4.66.

    Several of you were surprised that we were not showing the previously advertised Incendies. This was advised to members by me prior to the screening of Corpus Christie after we changed the line up on the website. Although we did this, we clearly need to ensure that any change to the line up must be constantly repeated prior to screenings. Also, however it should hopefully ensure that more of you engage with the website more frequently if you able. We endeavour to do better.

    However, the change of title did not stop you enjoying the replacement and your comments are all collected below.

    “Very thought provoking, beautifully filmed and impressive acting particularly as the main actor was a fisherman not an actor”.

    “Lovely, very atmospheric film with some wonderful sequences”.

    “Such a sad film. 'Industrial' trawler fleets thrive while destroying the sea bed and fish stocks, corrupt officials and criminals collude, while traditional fishermen are driven out of their family occupations and are faced with impossible choices. Good performances all round but felt a bit too much like a rather depressing documentary to really enjoy it”

    “The fact that Jesmark, the protagonist, is a fisherman, not a professional actor, must have helped the movie to be so believable. The storyline was relatable, but the setting in a different environment (a fisherman's life in Malta) was attractive, highlighting the universal human aspect. However, like Jesmark, the story did not shout; the subtleness made it even more powerful. It depicted how social expectations, traditions, pressure, stubbornness, and unnecessary unkindness (based on negative emotions such as pride, ambition, greed, etc., represented mainly by the snobbish mother-in-law) could lead a man into crime. While watching, I felt anxious--I didn't want him to be caught! So, the last scenes relieved me despite the poignancy of his farewell to his boat. It was a relief that he found himself through being a good father. By following the advice and talking to his son, he managed to find himself. The beautiful ending anticipates the future where he will return to where his soul truly belongs. The quiet sound effects were compelling – the sounds of the sea, wind, rustles of the trees, and rattles of fishing-related tools were used well. The hopeful ending and the steady sound of the fishing rod were beautiful and reassuring. I felt that the family would be alright. Thank you”.

    “A stark portrait of the difficult life and decisions facing a traditional fisherman trying to make ends meet to support a young family. I've not been to Malta but it came across as being more Middle Eastern/Arabic than European, which surprised me. The ending was very sad with the decision to take the EU money to stop fishing and destroy his boat, after he and his friend had spent so much love and effort on restoring the beautiful wooden vessel, with its long family history. Thanks”.

    “Well constructed/filmed plausible tale of man’s fight to survive in idyllic surroundings against legislative and environmental pressures. Enjoyed and kept us awake”.

    “The culture of Malta and the Fisherman made the story interesting. Bureaucracy changing industries making people lose their jobs, loss of talent and through the people’s deprivation creates the sophistication of the black market”.

    “A simple elegantly told tale. I thought the two fishermen did a better job of acting than Tom Cruise!!”

    “Sad. How can anyone make an honest living?”

    “Very powerful. How "progress ", global warming, affects the lives of so many. Had to leave early as not feeling well, but profoundly moved by the inner turmoil of Jes. Sorry though not to see L'Incendie, even if it was shown some years ago”.

    “Captured the scene and atmosphere of a fishing community in Malta. Difficult to watch the joyless life of a man's relentless downfall. Was the director suggesting crime was the only option? A documentary would have needed to provide balance and context; a drama would have needed to entertain- this failed to do either”.

    “Sad. Beautifully filmed…excellent ‘amateur’ actors”.

    “Beautiful film…very moving main performance – couldn’t believe he wasn’t a professional”.

    “Simple story but brilliantly portrayed”.

    “Incredible performance by Jesmark and his cousin…... (and the baby was quite a star too). Very sad for the Luzzo!”

    “Simple but effective film”.

    “Moving – sometimes you have to swap your past for a different future”.

    “Very evocative shots of Maltese boats and surroundings. Very sad to see the fate of Maltese fishermen”.

    “Wonderful cinema. Sad story – sign of the times!”

    “Very interesting as I have just come back from Malta. A well-made film which caught the desperation of a well-meaning fisherman who had to give up his principles to feed his family”.

    “Beautiful photography”.

    “Old v New. Thank goodness for the EU!”

    “For a non-actor the lead role was very good”.

    “Thought provoking parable of how life is – sad – “.

    “It’s all in the eyes! Diverting”.

     “Sad and depressing but with some uplifting moments e.g. when Jes tells his son a story”.


    “Sad but familiar story”.

    “Came to see Incendies – still wish I’d seen Incendies. There must be a way of texting or emailing everyone if there is a change to the schedule”.

    “Great actors and actresses but BORING”.

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