OInside the beautifully painted traditional Maltese fishing boat (or luzzu) that Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) makes his living with is the imprint of a pair of baby feet and a name. Her name. This boat has seen three generations of her family grow up; he supported the family of his father and grandfather. But now, as Jesmark daubs his own son’s soles with paint to carry on the tradition, he knows deeply that time is running out for this way of life. Strict new fishing regulations and a dangerous undercurrent of corruption mean Jesmark is struggling to keep its head above water as debt weighs it down. His pride is hurt – the luzzu boats are more than just a means of subsistence for the men who sail them. They convey generations of stories and legends.
There are similarities, thematic and otherwise, with Mark Jenkin’s Cornish Ensemble Bait. Both deal with how “progress” is eroding traditional fishing communities; both are made by filmmakers with a connection to the location (writer-director Alex Camilleri is of Maltese-American descent); both are driven by the muscular authenticity of the central performances. In the case of Luzzu, the magnetic Scicluna is a Maltese fisherman in real life, and is part of a cast mostly made up of non-professional actors. His performance is impressively complex: a gnarled tangle of conflicting bluster — the brash confidence that lands him a lucrative job at a black-market fishmonger — and the soul-sapping self-loathing of a man who feels a failure in the shadow of the ancestors.