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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

‘Terraferma’ is a stunning social commentary

As I watched “Terraferma” at Saint Mary's College (SMC) last Thursday, I saw a beautifully woven story about the struggles of immigrants and the Sicilians that try to save them. SMC's Center for Women's Intercultural Leadership and the department of modern languages and cultures partnered to present a Race and Migration Film Festival, featuring films from different cultures, including ”Terraferma.” I loved the film so much and saw quite a few similarities between the characters and my mother. I called her instantly after the film to tell her about a scene where Ernesto (Mimmo Cuticchio), the patriarch of the family, refused to go to the hospital. But more than the personal things I related to, the film highlighted the tension between what is moral and what is legal. 

The landscape on the Sicilian island, Linosa, was beautiful, but the preservation of a ”picture-perfect” Sicily comes at a price. The residents of Linosa insist on hiding the “ugly” parts of the island for wealthy tourists, and that includes hiding immigrants. 

But the unfair treatment of illegal immigrants in “Terraferma” doesn't just stop at negligence — the law actively punishes those who assist immigrants. As a fisherman, Ernesto faces a moral dilemma when he sees a nearly-capsized raft of Ethiopian migrants. He initially calls the coast guard and follows the law of Sicily, but when four of the migrants jump off, Ernesto follows the laws of the sea. A fisherman must help anyone who is in the water. 

If Ernesto's kind action was discovered by the Sicilian police (aka the Carabinieri), he would be punished for helping illegal migrants and bringing them ashore. So Ernesto's friend Filippo (Filippo Pucillo) and Filippo's mother Giulietta (Donatella Finocchiaro) decide to take the migrant family to avoid the legal repercussions, going so far as to risk their house. Their house helps them supplement their income because they rent it out to tourists. The survival of the Ethiopian migrant family and the Sicilian family are intertwined in “Terraferma.”

In terms of socioeconomic status, southern Italy is much more poor than the wealthier areas in the north. Despite their differences, “Terraferma” suggests there is a clear similarity between the two groups. Both the tourists and the fishermen wish for a better life, and this is what enables them to understand each other. Why shouldn't that be extended to immigrants?

Within the economic struggles are emotional struggles. While Giulietta takes care of the migrants, the film notes that she is newly widowed. Her late husband Pietro is connected by Giulietta and Filippo. Filippo learned to be a fisherman like his father and his Nonno. When the family's boat is confiscated, the audience learns it belonged to Pietro. The boat takes on a symbolism of sorts. There is a disagreement about whether the boat should be sold. Giulietta wants to change things after the death of her husband and wants a new life. Filippo and Nonno want things to remain the same. But there is a fascinating third perspective from the island's entrepreneur, Nino (Giuseppe Fiorello), who believes the family should focus their energy on the tourism industry. For this reason, he believes that the boat should be sold. He benefits from the system that hurt others on the island so greatly.

The film provided a unique perspective on a serious struggle as a result of the laws. It told the larger story of the 100,000 to 200,000 migrants who come to Italy every year.


Title: “Terraferma”

Starring: Filippo Pucillo, Donatello Finocchiaro, Giuseppe Fiorello

Director: Emanuele Crialese

If you liked: “Roma,” “Shoplifters”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5