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All the characters in Emanuele Crialese's Terraferma are in search of the solid ground, for safety, for the certainty of tomorrow. And yet, nothing seems to be solid in their destinies. The story happens on a small island near the bigger island of Sicily, an area of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The local community sees its traditional economy based on fishing threatened, its mode of life based on honor and the rough justice of the sea threatened by everything around - decaying fishing crops, invading tourists, the dissolution of the moral fabric of the local society. And then an apparently bigger threat comes as desperate African boat immigrants start showing up at the shores, after having risked their lives in the stormy seas, flying in despair the devastated continent of their birth.
I am not sure if the programming of this film together with the French 'Intouchables' was a coincidence. Both films deal with the problem of the African refugees seen as a symbol of the different people of different cultures trying to enter the Old Continent, same as repeated waves of immigration have stormed its gates all along the history. The same thing happens today in my country, and there are no easy responses, not on what concerns the clash of cultures and mentalities, not on the political or economic planes, and not on the human one. The shared message of the two films with their very different stories told in very different registers is that human beings can find their resources and show solidarity at moments of maximal crisis.
Despite the story line which is a little too expected and simplistic 'Terraferma' succeeds to create emotion, with a few direct and well directed scenes. The story is a coming to age and an Italian family drama in the good Italian tradition to the same extent that it is an immigrant drama. The film is beautifully filmed, the director and the cameraman obviously love the sea and the landscape of the Mediterranean and make the best of these in a few sequences to remember. With good acting and a message that is fundamentally optimistic in its trust of the capacity of men staying human in the most adverse situations the rather anonymous 'Terraferma' did not fall much behind the 'Intouchables' which was one of the most successful films in the history of the French cinema.
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