A Sicilian Island, a local family, a boat with illegal aliens that recounts Italy, but not only…
Terraferma, by Emanuele Crialese, has been one of the most acclaimed movies among the ones presented at Venice Film Festival 2011.
Now in theaters in Italy, it depicts the life of an Island in Sicily, where immigrants disembark from North Africa in search of a better life. This is true even in real life: in Lampedusa, a Sicilian Island very similar to Linosa where the film has been shot, the police and the inhabitants are struggling to manage the situation almost on daily basis.
Terraferma means ashore: it's the immigrants' dream, the land that is supposed to give them a better quality of life after days navigating the sea. Terraferma represents a safe place for the protagonists of the movie, too: the Island is a place somehow untouched by the real world and allows them not to face reality, which is instead brought abruptly to a halt by the immigrants' arrival.
Giulietta, a young widow masterly represented by the beautiful Angela Finocchiaro (an intense, contemporary Anna Magnani), realizes that something needs to change in her life and plans to convert her apartment into a Bed&Breakfast structure for the summer so to have enough money to leave the Island in the autumn. At this announcement, Filippo, her 20-year-old son (a stunning performance of Filippo Pucillo) and Filippo's s grandfather, interpreted by Mimmo Cuticchio who gives his character a dimension that goes way beyond his role in the movie - react both perplexed.
Ernesto has been a fisherman for his entire life and can't imagine his life to be different. Filippo has never left the Island and feels pretty much the same way. Uncle Nino (Giuseppe Fiorello) gave up long ago the family tradition to entertain tourist in his bathing establishment, much more profitable than the fishing activity.
One morning, all of a sudden, their lives are shaken by the arrival of Sara - an illegal alien in real life too - and his son, saved by Ernesto and Filippo while out fishing. Italian law forbids the rescue of illegal aliens from the sea on a private boat but the only law that Ernesto follows is "the one of the sea". From then on, it will be a struggle between what Giulietta, Filippo and Ernesto should do - calling the police - and what they think it's ethically right. The sea is the other protagonist. The movie is permeated by this silent witness of the events: it's the element that brings the illegal aliens on the Island but also the same one who steals their dreams and yet entertains the tourists and feeds the Island inhabitants with the few fish that are left.
There are many reasons why watching Terraferma. The photography reminds of Caravaggio's paintings, with a dramatic use of the light that stresses solitude, desperation, uncertainty. Crialese succeeds in recounting a real social issue for Italy in a very emotional yet non-rethorical way, but it must be said that this is a movie about compassion more than about immigration. The empathy and suspicion of Giulietta towards Sara, who represents the novelty and excitement of the world that she is so eager to show to Filippo, also involves the theme of motherhood, both of them wanting the best for their sons. Crialese “throws in there” a melancholic mention about a Country that was made of professions that are now disappearing and a good point about a Country that doesn't know yet how to reinvent itself – a necessary measure - without destroying its traditions at the same time. At the end, this movie is about something much bigger than immigration: it's about the fear of the unknown, ancestral and unresolved, that everyone had to face at least once in life.
Written by Elisa della Barba