Morally passionate but familiar storytelling

May 4th, 2012

This article is more than 11 years old.

Terraferma is a 2011 Italian film directed by Emanuele Crialese. It is the most recent in his career and sconed him a Special Jury Award at the Venice Film Festival. It tackles touchy subjects like illegal immigration, survival and our own decisions which influence the lives of others and lay bare our moral spine. Ethics and difficult choices of moral nature are the main themes Terraferma deals with, and, but it does not provide any answers nor does it try to preach.

The film is slow paced; it takes its time presenting and familiarising the audience with Linosa – the island and place of action – and the people who live there. However, it never makes you want to check the time during the screening. Since the characters live off fishing and tourists coming to their island every summer, the sea also plays a big part in the film, and it is beautiful. It’s a life source for the islanders, a vacation spot for the tourists and a passageway to safety for the African immigrants.


It’s a simple, character driven story, focusing on one family, but through them, showing the plight of all fishermen of that region – striving to provide for their families and trying to live by their own set of moral rules, which do not always overlap with the government’s laws (Help drowning people? No? Ooh, because they’re not legal. Gotcha!) The characters are believable and likeable and develop, change and grow throughout the film. It’s a big feat in the flood of films that provide only stock characters, with one-liners that define them and have nothing else to them but that.


Terraferma is constructed on stark contrasts and juxtapositions: the peaceful sea and desolate land; the carefree tourists and the terrified immigrants; wealth and poverty and so on. It’s quietly powerful without any tacky effects. It probably won’t appeal to everyone, precisely because of that though. It’s for people willing to be patient and for those which are interested in rural Italy, sea and moral struggles depicted in film.



Dir: Emanuele Crialese;

ITA drama;

2011, 88 mins;

Filippo Pucillo, Donatella Finocchiaro, Mimmo Cuticcio

Premieres: May 10




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