‘Terraferma’ is the latest import to tackle immigration

Immigrant Sara (Timnit T.) comforts her son in "Terraferma." Credit: Cohen Media Group
Immigrant Sara (Timnit T.) comforts her son in “Terraferma.”
Credit: Cohen Media Group

‘Terraferma’
Director: Emanuele Crialese
Stars: Filippo Puccilo, Donatella Finocchiaro, Mimmo Cuticchio
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

Given that “Terraferma” is set in and around the Sicilian island of Linosa, attractive suntanned people and sun-dappled bodies of water are to be expected. While this beautifully filmed drama has plenty of both, it takes on a far more serious topic than fun in the sun. Like director Emanuele Crialese’s earlier film, “The Golden Door,” the subject here is immigration. This time it’s the illegal kind. Pitting a tradition-bound Italian family against local law, “Terraferma” depicts the moral issues that arise when local citizens aid African refugees.

Filippo (Filippo Pucillo) is the 20 year-old grandson of a fisherman family. After losing her husband, Filippo’s mother Giulietta (Donatella Finocchiaro) wants to rent out their home to tourists so she can earn enough money to eventually leave the island and its dying fishing industry. After Filippo lures a tourist, Maura (Marina Codecasa), and her two friends to rent the house, all seems to be well. However, the family’s situation suddenly changes. While out fishing one morning, Filippo and his grandfather Ernesto (Mimmo Cuticchio) save a handful of Libyan refugees, one of whom (Timnit T.) is pregnant. The local police seize the boat because saving people at sea is illegal. Yet secretly, Giulietta takes in the pregnant woman, helps her deliver the baby, and keeps them safe even though she worries about being discovered.

“Terraferma” shows how the characters’ attitudes towards illegals are challenged and change. Giulietta may have sympathy for her unwelcome guest, but when Filippo is out one night on a boat with Maura, he fights off dozens of refugees who attempt to climb aboard. How he responds to his guilt provides the dramatic arc of the film, but his storyline engenders only mild emotions. Likewise, when the village’s fishermen stage a vivid protest against the police, the sequence is eloquently presented but it fails to create a strong impact.

More affecting is Crialese’s point that the Italians want the same thing as the refugees: a better life. He underscores this with a terrific underwater tracking shot of the possessions lost by the refugees, or a quiet scene in which Giulietta and Ernesto have a pasta dinner with the hidden refugees. “Terraferma” could have used more subtle moments like these. Ultimately, the film’s greatest strength is how it prompts viewers to consider their reactions in the situations Giulietta and Fillipo face.


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