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FIRE AT SEA GETS 7/10 Sea Of Tears

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Directed by Gianfranco Rosi

7/10

Originally conceived as a short film, director Gianfranco Rosi realised there was no way to tell the of the migrant crisis, and it’s effects on Italy in that format. Inserting himself on the island of Lampedusa (one of the major entry points by water to Europe from the Middle East and Africa) his documentary crew became familiar with the locals of the island, as well as the naval operations and refugee camps established around the area. Fire At Sea shows the lives of the Lampedusa locals as they continue against the background of a growing humanitarian crisis.

This is an extraordinary approach to the subject matter. Instead of tackling the issue of refugees crossing front on, Rosi introduces us into the ordinary lives of the people at the end destination of one of the major sea routes. He doesn’t provide comment, but the power of the shots, the rawness of a couple of interviews, and the scale of the tragedy, all speak for themselves.

The end result is a compelling piece of cinema. Beautifully constructed, each shot is carefully thought out and realised. There is a flow in its formation, a natural rhythm to this visual poetry that is quiet relaxing and hypnotic to watch. The camera is invisible, a part of everyday life to the subject, often unthought of and unnoticed. As such the subjects are relaxed and candid in its presence, revealing much of themselves and their way of life. It is the everyday and the ordinary, playing out next to a life and death struggle for thousands.

By not making this a polemic, by not making a grand statement, Fire At Sea places the interpretation onto the audience. Sure Rosi’s sympathies are obvious – by his extended interview with the island doctor (who has to verify every death at sea), or the evangelical witnessing of one African refugee during prayer. Yet it never interferes with our immersion in the life on Lampedusa, it is part of it, and made stunningly sharper by that. We realise that the tragedies we have seen, the harrowing accounts we have heard, are repeated over and over again, when we look away. The immensity of that scale is effectively hammered home to us. In other ways we also realise that we share much in common with the Lampedusa residents – stunned by news of tragedy, but continuing our daily routines. Sympathetic, but unable to affect a solution.

Impactful, mesmerising, and beautiful, Fire At Sea is a stunning documentary that rewards patient viewing.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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