Last night, I saw this gorgeous and deeply moving film at TIFF. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll say that the story is of blood ties and heritage played out in one family in a tiny fishing village on the Sicilian coast. The ocean is this family’s home; in the end, this family of five finds its force is irresistible. After all, it is their only real source of income for their survival. The story is about the relationship each family member’s relationship with the sea.
Pasquale Simeca is the screenplay artist and director of the film, which is based on the novel I Malavoglin by Giovanni Verga.
Throughout, I felt as if I were in an art gallery observing the paintings of the French artists, Chardin and Cezanne. From the very dark early morning shots of the men getting the boat ready to the photography of the sea itself—from placid to raging—we get the impression of the roughness and danger of an individual’s fate upon the sea.
Chardin beautifully painted objects from ordinary life such as a knife, a plate and an apple or a loaf of bread. With the contrast of light and dark, rough and smooth he brought the most commonplace scenes vividly to life. The cinematography in this film brings to life the richness of color and texture surrounding this family. And yet, their world is rough, plain and unvarnished. The photography is not only captivatingly beautiful, but it also expresses the very nature of these people and their lives.
The grandfather of the family is a study in stoicism. Despite the fact that their fishing vessel, the Providenza is nearly destroyed not once but twice, he continues on to restore it. Of course, it is the sole source of their very basic livelihood. I cannot look at the deeply creviced face of the grandfather and not think of one of the card players in a Cezanne painting. The solidity of such people makes comparison to mountains intimate and immediate. One force confronts another.
In the lengthy shots of his face, which reflect not one iota of emotion, we are left to imagine everything that is going on within the man. And that is far more powerful than any display. On the other hand, his daughter, whose husband has been taken by the sea, nearly becomes mad. Her acting of her grief is powerful by way of contrast with the grandfather.
The director, who attended the screening, said that he viewed the film as an exploration of the frustration of youth when confronted with the demands of the life of a fisherman—the tension between one generation and another. This is brought out through the one grandson’s desperate attempt to break away. But there are no other kinds of jobs available. In the end, every family member is pulled back to sea with the same force as the tides.
But it is in no way a depressing film. There is much warm comedy which arises when you know someone very well and that person insists on being very much him or herself.
So, what is the indie author’s perspective? Of course, this is an indie film made with an extraordinary amount of love and care. The more films like this—the better. Now that TIFF has a permanent, year round home, I expect I’ll have a place to see such films any time I like. And that is the beauty of the TIFF Bell Light Box.