Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
This Italian documentary is the official submission from that country for the next Academy Awards. The reaction to this from certain Italian fiction filmmakers has been not unlike the consternation certain novelists have expressed about Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. But, Paolo Sorrentino’s soreness notwithstanding, this is a pertinent gesture, one of self-criticism, even. For “Fire at Sea,” in a sense, chronicles an Italian failure. An Italian failure that is, arguably, shared by the rest of the Western world.
Lampedusa is, per Wikipedia, the largest island of the Pelagie Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Its closeness to Libya makes it a relatively desirable landing point for African and North African refugees fleeing from wars, unrest, and starvation on that continent. “Relatively” desirable because, as the movie shows in patiently unfolded detail, there’s really very little upside to being a refugee.
Directed by Gianfranco Rosi, the movie begins with a text that reels off some numbers: 400,000 migrants, 15,000 deaths. Such big numbers are hard to see as anything but abstractions. Rosi then cuts to some beautiful, peaceful imagery. Giant radio antennas revolve in front of a dramatic sky full of grey clouds over an undulating sea. A radio DJ says some calming words. It doesn’t seem like a deadly environment.
The movie doesn’t use any narration; the opening text is all the hand-holding the viewer gets. Rosi instead homes his camera on narratives pertaining at first to the natives of the island. A compassionate doctor is seen treating patients who clearly aren’t locals. He bemoans the indignities they suffer, and their deaths. A young boy, a neighbor of the doctor, makes slingshots using medical rubber bands and takes them to a local field to shoot with his pals. Soon there are shots of choppers and a boat. The latest batch of migrants is here.
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