Luzzu is a basic but effective story about a young man choosing between the man he wants to be and the man he has to be — a story we’ve seen countless times, but told with elegance.
Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) is a fisherman off the coast of Malta, as were his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather. He fishes in a little motorized luzzu named the Ta’Palma, passed down to him along with the profession. A luzzu is a wooden boat, traditionally painted in bright colors and festooned with two eyes at the bow. Being so small and wooden has its drawbacks, though, and Jesmark isn’t able to bring in the number of fish he needs to keep up repairs on the boat and care for his girlfriend, Denise (Michela Farrugia), and their newborn son, Aiden. To make matters worse, EU fishing regulations make it difficult for fishermen who rely on nets to capture the proper number of certain types of fish to prevent destroying the population. Jesmark’s life is a balancing act between his struggle as a fisherman with a long legacy and what his family needs from him. Still, he’s managing, one day at a time … until a doctor explains that Aiden is not growing at the right rate and needs to see expensive specialist physicians in another city.
Writer-director Alex Camilleri does an admirable job making Jesmark’s struggles feel real. There’s no moment in the film where Jesmark’s sense of duty to uphold his family tradition doesn’t feel like a legitimately felt concern on his part; after all, he is surrounded by his father’s old friends every day at work. It’s a tricky storytelling feat when the character is choosing between that and being present for his son. The modern world is destroying Jesmark’s way of life, and even if he clings to it, he’ll never pass it to Aiden. Climate change, overfishing and the condition of their luzzu will all prevent that from happening. Still, it’s a journey for Jesmark to understand and accept that, and Scicluna’s performance as the character makes us understand the gravity of the situation.
Jesmark’s other options are pretty limited. The EU offers to buy him out, which would mean turning in his fishing license and the luzzu. The sum of money they give him is ostensibly for retraining at a warehouse or a shipping yard. But of course, that money would be just as useful to pay for Aiden’s appointments. As he struggles to decide what to do, Jesmark turns to petty crime and the fishing black market to make ends meet.
Bonus features on the new Kino Lorber DVD release include two documetnary features, original screen tests and an audio commentary by Scicluna and Camilleri.