In the midst of the tragic, heartbreaking refugee crisis director Gianfranco Rosi has zeroed in on the problem by focusing on the Italian island of Lampedusa. In His “Fire at Sea,” showcased at the 2016 New York Film Festival and now released commercially, he looks at the refugee problem from two angles, one concentrating on the desperate immigrants, the other from the viewpoint of the island residents, some of whom are engaged in rescue operations.
Vast numbers of refugees have made their way to Lampedusa, and very many have died trying. Some of the best scenes in the film involve the island coast guard carrying out harrowing rescue missions.
The report on just what life looks like for those who have reached refuge on the island tears at one’s conscience, also because this is only one area that represents the totality of the refuge problem. The newspapers have been full of stories revealing how people have been packed onto small boats beyond capacity, and all that refugees have to go through dealing with smugglers making a living off human tragedy.
But what especially stands out is the concept of contrasting refugee struggles with life on the island. We meet a young boy, Samuele Pucillo, who wanders about and finds ways to enjoy himself, his life very different from those who reach the island. We also meet Dr. Pietro Bartolo, who is overwhelmed by the number of people who need help, and we see the lifestyle on the island as it follows its familiar pattern.
The director examines the routines of Samuele and Dr. Bartolo in reference to the horrendous larger picture and shows us what those living in the face of the refugee plight do in the hands-on situation, a crisis that those of us viewing a film in the comfort of our lives do not have to face directly. Rosi’s cinematography is stunning in the way he captures the look of the island and the unfolding drama. A Kino Lorber release. Reviewed October 21, 2016.