"Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Emanuele Crialese’s small but powerful new feature, set against the background of the influx of African boat people on the tiny Italian islands of Lampedusa and Linosa, is extra-textual: the fact that Timnit T, who plays an illegal immigrant woman given reluctant refuge by an island family, was one of only five survivors of a boatload of 70 immigrants that washed up on Lampedusa while the director was working on the treatment for the film." Lee Marshall in Screen: "The fact that Terraferma itself makes no mileage out of this is credit to Crialese, but it’s all of a piece with his unfussy approach, which is simply to tell a strong story in a way which, though it occasionally comes across as a little naïf in its liberal simplification of the issue, wins through thanks to a Ken-Loach-like combination of heart-on-sleeve commitment and elegantly succinct dramatic structure."
Roderick Conway Morris outlines the story in the International Herald Tribune: "The young fisherman Filippo (Filippo Pucillo), whose father was lost at sea three years earlier, lives with his widowed mother Giulietta (Donatella Finocchiaro). He works the family boat with his grandfather Ernesto (Giuseppe Fiorello)…. One day when out fishing Filippo and Ernesto rescue an Ethiopian woman (Timnit T) and child from a sinking boat… At the risk of heavy fines and even imprisonment for harboring illegal immigrants, the family hide them in the garage of their home where they themselves are temporarily living, having rented their house to summer student visitors. Life becomes even more precarious after the woman gives birth and the family fishing boat is impounded when Filippo and Ernesto try to use it to take their student guests on a pleasure trip (for which they do not have a license)…. Crialese has created an absorbing drama not just about a traditional society in crisis and the major issue of immigration but also about individuals facing universal moral choices."
Not everyone agrees. "The kind of pic that lays everything out nice and neat so auds can easily digest the arguments and feel good about themselves for not wanting people to die, this is a well-made movie with no pretension but also no crying need to be at a major film festival," finds Variety's Jay Weissberg. For the Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young, this is "an unremarkable story flying a passionate moral banner."
More from Camillo de Marco at Cineuropa.
Terraferma is competing in Venice and will be a Special Presentation in Toronto. Then it's on to London. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.