The migrants’ crisis in the Mediterranean and its impact on the islands have found a memorable expression in the film of Gianfranco Rosi “Fuocoammare” (“Fire at Sea”), which won last week the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. In 2013, Rosi had won the Golden Lyon in Venice with “Sacro GRA”, a lyrical documentary about people living near to Rome’s ring road, the ‘Grande Raccordo Anulare’.
Eventually, great artists have to confront the key issues of their time, as Vittorio De Sicaand Roberto Rossellini did with the early post-war Italy. Nowadays, the immense disruption caused by climate change in Africa and the Middle East begins to find its way in cinema. The migrants’ crisis is obviously here to stay for decades, as Angela Merkel reminded us last year.
The subject of the film was not easy to deal with, and Rosi addresses it in an unconventional, unexpected way. The film is a documentary, turned in the island of Lampedusa, which is on the frontline for this social and humanitarian emergency. An estimated 15,000 people have already drowned near its coasts over the last few years. Hundreds of thousands have been saved by the islands’ people, after horrific journeys in overcrowded boats, most of them coming from Africa.
In “Fire at Sea”, what happens in Lampedusa (but it could have been Lesbos or – tomorrow –-other islands) is seen through the eyes of some of its inhabitants: a child, who is going to become a fisherman, a doctor dealing with distressed refugees, and few others. Scenes of their everyday lives are shown without any narration. There are no actors; the inhabitants of Lampedusa interpret themselves. Few words are spoken; there are no scenes of people drowning, or brutalized by those who carry them across the rough sea. There is no rhetoric, no display of cruelty, no show of human suffering. Rosi knows that the excess of sorrow, the huge number of casualties, the appalling conditions of the refugees risk to anesthetize our sensibilities, to detach us emotionally from the victims. It is in fact the film’s quiet, unassuming depiction of the migrants’ tragedy (only one rescue operation is shown in the entire movie) that makes this film so poignant, that brings us so close to the refugees’ distress.
It was about time that the great effort of the Mediterranean islands’ people, who are withstanding a planetary crisis, found an adequate expression in a movie. The quiet dignity and humanity of Lampedusa’s people confronted with this immense disruption might have played a role in awarding the prestigious prize at the Berlin Film Festival. But islands in the storm of the migrants’ crisis deserve more than human sympathy. The way in which islands confront the crisis will be also a sign for the future of European Union, in fact a survival test.