Judge Daryl Loomis is a heck of a fisherman. He once caught a four-inch trout, with pictures to prove it.
It's the law of the sea.
I've often said I can forgive a lesser story for high style or beautiful cinematography, but I guess that's only true for horror movies, where nobody's really expecting much from the plot in the first place. Outside of horror, you have movies like Terraferma, Italy's Foreign Language entry to the Oscars in 2012. From the opening shot of the movie, with its breathtaking photography, I thought I would surely be in for a treat. And it's true, the movie looks amazing and director Emanuele Crialese (Respiro) made some great stylistic choices, but I found myself left completely cold because the way the story is told simply doesn't pass muster.
On an island off the coast of Sicily, a group of fisherman is out for the daily catch when they come upon the wreckage of a ship. Soon, they find the survivors, refugees from Africa seeking a better life in Italy. It's illegal to bring immigrants into the country, but Ernesto (Mimmo Cuticchio), the captain, will leave no person alive, so hauls them aboard and brings them to town. As the refugees recover, the town begins to go into fits over the transgression and the people must reckon with their long-standing hatred of immigrant populations.
Terraferma opens with a shot of the sea, churning blue and shimmering in the sun, which is simply amazing. The camera comes down to the boat, where we sit for a few moments watching the fishermen work; it's some of the most realistic, beautifully framed boating footage I've ever seen. There are plenty of brilliant moments just like this, both asea and on land, and Fabio Cianchetti (The Dreamers) deserves a ton of credit for his cinematography, but those moments can't make up for everything that's lacking in the story.
Its premise is nothing bad, but nor is it anything new. The political aspects of the immigrants get the story going, but the driving force of the movie is the fisherman family. There is more mention of grandson Filippo (Fillipo Pucillo, Golden Door) leaving the island and how much his mother, Giulietta (Donatella Finocchiaro, Angela), hates the idea than there is about the immigrants. The characters are shallow and the writing isn't so great, making the situation with the story even worse.
Some of it involves the actors, none of whom are the most experienced people in the world. They aren't quite the amateurs of something like La Terra Trema, Luchino Visconti's 1948 real-life story of fisherman that Terraferma closely resembles, but no matter how hard they try, their lack of seasoning shines a light on the lackluster storytelling. Because the movie is so genuinely gorgeous, though, it's still worth watching; just don't expect to much from the people you'll see or the words you'll hear.
Terraferma (Blu-ray) arrives courtesy of Entertainment One and the Cohen Media Group. As a new movie, it doesn't feature their restorations that have floored me in the past, but on a technical level, it's still a strong disc. The image truly shines in high definition, with a 2.35:1/1080p transfer that looks fabulous, featuring gorgeous colors and fantastic detail. The water shimmers from the sun and the boat scenes are realistically nausea-inducing, while the city scenes and interiors are crisp and gorgeous. The Master Audio surround sound isn't as brilliant as the image, but it's still quite good. The dialog and music both sound great, while the sound of the sea roars throughout the channels.
Extras aren't so great, though. The only supplement aside from the trailer is a short making-of featurette that is just footage of the filming, no interviews or commentary. Too bad, given the breadth of what is normally on their discs, but at least it looks nice.
I wanted to love Terraferma, but as much as I can appreciate the gorgeous location photography, I just couldn't get past the flat, emotionless story to enjoy it at all. My liking a badly written movie that looks really nice turns out to be mostly the provenance of the horror genre, but there's no denying that it really is a beautifully filmed movie and is worth seeing on that level alone.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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