Fire At Sea

Fire At Sea is an Italian documentary directed by Gianfranco Rosi that won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and is nominated for an Oscar.

It’s about the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean, between Africa and Italy, and focuses on the European migrant crisis, during which some 15000 people have died trying to reach the island. Hundreds of people board boats that are barely seafaring and risk their lives trying to make it to a safer life. Not everyone makes it.

It’s such a sad story, and an important cause. I wanted badly to like this movie. Badly. Meryl Streep, chair of the Berlin jury, called the film “a daring hybrid of captured fuocoammare-1footage and deliberate storytelling that allows us to consider what documentary can do. It is urgent, imaginative and necessary filmmaking.” Meryl, love ya, but I respectfully disagree.

I realize I’m going to be in the minority here, but Fire At Sea nearly bored me to death. There’s no narration to drive the story. There isn’t much of a story at all. It follows some island natives who have very little to do with the migrant crisis, and if their lives are affected by it at all, it remains a secret from us. Lengthy scenes are spent on a 12 year old boy who has a lazy eye and an aptitude with slingshots. Why give so much time to him and very little to the actual refugees? The only thing I can conclude is that the film maker is making the migrant crisis seem every day, as perhaps it feels to the people of Lampedusa who have witnessed so much and are now impressed by very little. But for me, hearing people plead for their lives over a CB radio, begging to be saved from their rapidly sinking vessel, it’s horrible. It’s fucking atrocious. But in this documentary, it’s given no more weight than is given to the kid discussing his allergies. So while I concede there might be some bigger meaning going on here, that it’s the juxtaposition of banality and tragedy that really underlines the horror, it just felt off to me, the refugees basically an afterthought.

The length of the scenes are painful, and Rosi’s aesthetic detracts from the film’s impact. Yes, life must go on, even in face of unspeakably injustice, but perhaps this film would have served its subject better had it focused on one more than the other. While I appreciate the message, I can’t help but object to the medium.




13 thoughts on “Fire At Sea

    1. Paula B

      Totally agree with the review. That mentally screwed up boy who got his kicks out of killing birds with a slingshot and setting cactus on fire got more time than the immigrants.. By the time he started sucking on the spaghetti I could not take anymore and walked out. Worst movie I’d seen in a while


  1. J.

    Hadn’t heard of this one. Dare say I would have if more felt the way Meryl Streep does about it.

    A story as grim as this deserves to be told properly and to more people. Especially given today’s climate.


    1. Jay Post author

      Well, the Academy is honouring it with a nomination and it’s highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes, so I suppose it’s just me who felt it was under-serviced.
      And my friend Luc. He hated it even more than I did.

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. Geral

    Completely agree. It was long winded at times. I couldn’t even finish it in one sitting. I made it my goal to watch as many movies as I could before the awards, which is why I watched this movie. Honestly the fact that it got a nomination is the only reason anyone would watch it. Didn’t like it.



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