Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The trouble with FIRE AT SEA (2016) New York Film Festival 2016

How this film, in it's present state won any sort of award is beyond me. To be certain the third to half of the film that deals with the plight of refugees entering Italy is one of the most bracing, shocking and heartbreaking films of this or any year, but the film is welded to the story of several people on an Island off the coast of Italy which had next to zero connection to the rest of the film. While it could be argued intellectually why the two pieces are together, emotionally it's so wrong as to make any caring human being morally indignant or in the case of Hubert Vigilla, want to "punch the film in the face."

The problem with the film begins with the description of the film. The NYFF's description begins with this statement:

Winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary observes Europe’s migrant crisis from the vantage point of a Mediterranean island where hundreds of thousands of refugees, fleeing war and poverty, have landed in recent decades.

The film also begins with some text talking about the plight of the refugees, leading anyone who simply walked into the film to believe that was what the film was about.

The problem is that's not what the film is about, the film is really about Samuele a 12 year old kid who wanders around the island of Lampedusa, makes slingshots, eats spaghetti and deals with a lazy eye.

Other promotional material makes the Samuele story the focus for the first line, but then mentions the refugees in the second line- and goes on to talk about how the towns people witness the the suffering of the refugees.

Not in this film they don't. Seriously they don't because at no point does anything carry over on any level other than being the same location.  The closest to  is that Samuele rows his boat near some of the rescue ships. No one in the Samuele section of the film even mentions the refugees, thus cutting the throat of any intellectual reasoning for putting the two  sections together. Simply put the to portions don't belong together.

I can not say enough good about the refugee rescue footage. Its is stark reporting. It's a slap in the face and the sort of thing that will break your heart. People should not have to have this happen to you. The footage is a wonderful companion to the footage shot by a refugee named Cissoko which appears in the woefully under seen REDEMPTION SONG. Not to put too fine a point on it the refugee footage is some of the greatest documentary images I've ever seen. It's so strong that the critic filled audience I was part of was dead silent and unmoving every time the footage came on the screen.

The trouble is it's tied to the Samuele slice of life stuff, which is not only stage manged and set up but also criminally humorous. And I'm very serious  about it being criminally humorous since the film transposes sequences such as Samuele slurping up pasta with dying humans.  I don't know about you but watching people die is not really funny.

The film kind of lost me at the start  when we watched Samuele wandering through some trees looking for a branch to make a sling shot with. It, like all of his sequences was clearly stage managed.  If the film was billed as a drama it would be fine but it's supposed to be a documentary, except that it's not. It may be a reflection of Samuele's life but it's not a documentary.

To be fair if the Samuele stuff was cleaved off from the refugee footage you'd have a really good slice of life film, but as it stand now, linked to some of the most moving footage in any film, it becomes much less.

What bothers me is that had the refugee material been the sole  focus it would have changed minds, changed hearts and changed the world but tying it to a rambling coming of age tale does it a disservice.

While most certainly the film has moments of power, in it's present form it's a major disappointment and one of the most over rated films of 2016

All NYFF screenings are sold out and are available as stand by. For more information on the film go here

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