The European migrant crisis is the hot button topic that Gianfranco Rosi tackled this time around in the Oscar nominated Fuocoammare, Fire At Sea, one that will strike a nerve for Americans and our immigration debate. While we tend to talk about who does, and does not deserve to live here in the US, Italians on the island of Lampadusa are concerned with the more immediate job of saving the lives of desperate boat people in perilous situations at sea. Politics will come later.
These men and women will need to be absorbed into an already troubled Europe, or they’ll need to be sent back to their dangerous homelands, but as one resident put it, “If we don’t help them, who will?” Rosi leaves the politics to the politicians and shows us the horrifying reality of overcrowded boats, a frantic SOS from one that is sinking, and a medical doctor describing the unimaginable number of dead and dying he deals with on a regular basis.
Fuocoamare seems almost a narrative film, with the locals playing the parts of sympathetic onlookers and aid givers, eloquently talking about their lives on the island in ways that no script could ever have lived up to. Young Samuele, for example, a happy and adventurous Italian boy doesn’t understand the anxiety he’s feeling, but his doctor does. When housing meant for 800 migrants must often accomodate 3,000 (the entire population of the island is only 6,000), everyone is affected.
Rosi doesn’t seem to care about your position on the issue, he just wants you to look at what’s happening. It reminds me of being a child watching the Vietnam war play out on TV. We saw the body bags and it wasn’t just a story in the newspaper anymore; everyone was forced to take a stand one way or the other. I think Rosi wants the same from us now.