' ' Cinema Romantico: Terraferma

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Villagers on a tiny island south of Sicily go up and down the beach, picking up old bottles and other washed up junk and tossing it into plastic bags. The next morning a ferry arrives from the distant Italian mainland, the ramp lowers and well-heeled, sun-tanned tourists by the dozens stride off as the locals rush to greet them with handmade signs desperately advertising rooms and boats for rent. The locals call this island, Linosa, "terraferma", or "solid land", but their figurative footing on that terrain has become slippery. Struggling to survive, they have become financially dependent on outsiders.

Always there is a holdout, and in this case it is elder Ernesto (Mimmo Cuticchio), the sort who ignores doctor's orders to light up another stogie, and who continues trawling seas that produce more illegal immigrants than fish. His oldest son pleads for his father to turn to the tourist trade as a means of a more prosperous income, but Ernesto will not budge.

"Terraferma" turns not on the Big Catch but on a raft of those illegal immigrants. The Law of the Sea, which conjures cliche (The Code of the Ocean) but is very much real on this solid land, dictates helping anyone in peril. The Law of the Land, however, the new Law of the Land, dictates you do not and rather report those in peril to the authorities so they can be picked up and carted back from whence they came. Ernesto, however, abiding by The Law of the Sea, willingly takes a pregnant refugee and her son aboard his boat, squaring them to his home and risking his well-being by keeping them hidden.

Caught in the middle is Ernesto's directionless grandson, Filippo (Filippo Pucillo). To be a fisherman means to embrace a way of life that is dying, and so he and his mother, Giulia (Donatella Finocchiaro), rent out their modest home to several teenage tourists and sleep in the garage. It's a twist on C.C. Baxter and his "Apartment", and I cannot imagine a metaphorical dead end appearing anymore bleak than sleeping in a cot in a garage next door to your own home.

A kinda, sorta spark develops between Filippo and the lone female renter (Martina Codecasa). It does not develop per presumptions, thankfully, and instead builds to a moment that forces Filippo to pick a side - help and risk your livelihood or hinder and save your skin.

The majority of the concluding act and the wrap-ups of the various plights, unfortunately, are all a bit too form-fitting for maximum emotional impact. Even so, if its morals are narratively oversimplified, director Emanuele Crialese does a splendid job with locale, pitting its limitless beauty against the limits of those inhabiting it.

This notion is brought home in a spectacular shot, repeated later in the film in a different incarnation, of Giulia seated on the cobblestone outside her home in a rickety chair alongside a worn-down wall, tiredly shutting her eyes, hidden in the shadows despite the island's prevalence of sun, as if the light picks and chooses whom it will find. Later when the tourists come to see her home, they lament its location. Not every home in paradise can have a seaside view.

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