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Malta 2013
Directed by
Rebecca Cremona
101 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars


Synopsis: In the fishing port of Valletta, Malta, the local fisherfolk have been cautioned against overfishing the tuna. Against official warnings, a family go out for one last trip, taking with them Grandpa Karmenu (Jimi Bussutil), father Simon (Lofti Abdelli), deckhand Moussa (Secouba Decoure), and, for the first time, young son Theo (Adrian Farrugia). Concurrently many refugees are arriving from northern Africa, and with a stand-off between Malta and Italy as to who will take this latest lot, a boatload of arrivals is anchored offshore, with the army trying to sort it all out. When an accident happens aboard the family’s boat, the repercussions of these two events colliding will be tragic.

Inspired by a real incident, this heartfelt and heart-breaking film was Malta’s entry into Best Foreign Film category at last year’s Academy Awards, and is in fact the first international feature film to come out of the country. And what a worthy film it is.

The topic couldn’t be more pertinent to what is going on in the world today. Every day we read of the flood of migrants into Europe; Rebecca Cremona’s film shows it up close and personal, the ghastly risks migrants take to flee chaos or in search of better lives on the one hand, the hostility of the existing occupants on the other. And, as with all situations when we get to know the individuals involved, we start to feel a connection and see things from different viewpoints. The main individual here is Moussa, himself a Somali refugee, now settled in Malta. Locals are resentful as to why he has got employment. As it turns out he shows himself to be a far better human being than many of the outraged citizens when it comes to the crunch. A local Red Cross doctor, Alex (Mark Mifsud), is initially also hostile but after he sees the selfless way in which an African interpreter travelling with the refugees gives herself to the task, he begins to soften.

Simshar is made in a beautifully understated way. Nothing is played for Hollywood style tension but the situations create their own intense dramatic narrative. The look of the film is appealing and an atmosphere is evoked of a lifestyle that is slowly slipping away.  The characters, including Sharin (Clare Agius), mother in the fishing family, are gently introduced and their pain is also felt at having hardship thrust upon them as their livelihood dwindles. The bond between the grandfather, the parents and the boys is keenly felt, making what happens all the more distressing. And whilst not many of the individual refugees are in the spotlight, the overall accompanying distress that goes with arriving as a refugee in a foreign land is poignantly captured.

The ordeal at sea after the boating accident makes for a spell of unrelentingly gripping viewing, though there are odd moments that feel as if they’ve been in other films before. However, it is the non-judgmental way that the film simply portrays a complex, important and virtually insoluble situation that really pushes home the reality of life for many in today’s world. While one family’s personal crisis unfolds, the larger world crisis is unfolding on their doorstep. We as viewers cannot help but ask how we should weigh up self-interest versus compassion. Judging by my strong emotional reactions, the film is doing the job it set out to and I recommend it as well worth seeking out.




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