The sea giveth, and the sea taketh away: It once provided a Sicilian village’s fishing community with its livelihood, though now, locals like young Filippo (Filippo Pucillo) and his grandfather don’t pull in big hauls anymore. Since Filippo’s dad disappeared while out on the water, the family’s resident hustler (Beppe Fiorello) has been pressuring his relatives to metaphorically cut bait. The teen’s mom (Donatella Finocchiaro) decides she’ll rent out their house for extra cash to the tourists who wash up on the island’s shores. Except the sea isn’t done with these folks just yet. It’ll also send them a raft of Ethiopian refugees, the appearance of whom will have major consequences for the clan.
Specters of past bounties loom large in Emanuele Crialese’s drama, and not just in the provincial way of life that’s slowly withering away. A host of historical Italian-cinema signposts dot his backhanded critique of modernity, from bucolic landscape imagery that would make Olmi beam to Finocchiaro lounging in the sun in widow’s wear, instantly channeling a Loren-to-Lollobrigida legacy of old-school sex bombs. As with his previous film Golden Door (2006), Crialese proves that he’s more adept when evoking a lyrical naturalism practiced by his directorial ancestors than when he’s hand-wringing over social issues. Except for two contrasting (pot)shots—a dance-party ship bursting with vulgarians (take that, Berlusconi’s Italy!) and night-swimming immigrants being beaten off a boat’s prow—Terraferma’s second half feels like a slow hike over too-familiar ground.
Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear