Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Simshar

 Simshar2
  • Premiered in Malta on 27/04/14
Review (26/04/14)
3-word review: Tragic but beautiful.  
Back in the summer of 2008, a fire at sea left only one survivor, and plunged the Maltese fishing village of Marsaxlokk into stunned silence. The details emerged slowly as Simon Bugeja, rescued from the sea after days clinging to a makeshift raft, recovered from his burns and dehydration in intensive care. His son's body was never found. Possibly the only good thing to come from this incident is this beautiful and moving film adaptation, which combines the story of those touched by the incident with the concurrent drama of perilous irregular immigration from Africa to Europe, an issue that Malta was and still is struggling with every summer. First-time director Rebecca Cremona's labour of love is a gorgeous postcard from Malta, which manages to portray some of the magic of this tiny little island without detracting from the solemnity of the fatal Simshar incident.

The fine details
A conclusive report on the incident helped the story eventually leave the front pages, but a few questions did remain unanswered. The script here does not try to answer everything or assign blame, and there is only the slightest reference to possible major illegalities, with the focus merely being on struggling fishermen ignoring fishing restrictions in order to put food on their families' table. The initial scenes with the maritime inspector are a bit clunky, besides the intentional awkwardness, and threaten to get things off to a disjointed start, but thankfully the film flows much better once the Simshar leaves port and the drama gets more intense. 
In front of the camera
I was worried some of the acting might drag the film down to TV soap levels after seeing the final trailer for the film, but thankfully most of the actors rise to the occasion. Jimi Busuttil is particularly good as Simon's father and fellow crew member, and Laura Kpegli is excellent as the subtle voice of reason amongst an increasingly desperate group of rescued immigrants. Claire Agius provides the emotional core of the film as the wife of Simon (and the 'shar' in 'Simshar'), and young Adrian Farrugia makes a notable debut as her son Theo. Lofti Abdelli was brought in to play the main role of Simon, and although his acting capabilities are clear, the obvious non-Maltese accent is unfortunately very distracting and it took me a while to get used to him in the role. Hopefully international audiences won't have this problem. 
Behind the scenes
Any complaints about the acting can be swiftly forgotten by seeing the quality of the film up on the screen, which definitely sets a new standard for films made entirely in Malta. Cremona frames the picturesque fishing village wonderfully, including a clever reveal using linen on a Marsaxlokk roof. The inclusion of the village feast and the international football match manage not to look too forced, and add the necessary colour. A handful of shots, especially during the incident and at the film's ending, are absolutely stunning. The attention to detail is also impressive, my favourite touch being the 'Lost Cat' sign on the bar's noticeboard.
In the end
Ultimately, this is a film about family. The main protagonists have their family torn apart by an unfortunate but possibly avoidable tragedy, and elsewhere many thousands risk their lives in treacherously overcrowded boats so as to give their family a chance of a better life in Europe. One of the immigrants refuses medical help so as not to be separated from her brother, and the attending doctor manages to sympathise and stay on to help her. Because the importance of family is something we can all understand, and that's what makes this film's ending so powerful.

Simshar1

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Trailer:

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