Review: Better angels inhabit ‘Terraferma’


The involving, thematically rich “Terraferma,” directed by Emanuele Crialese from a timely — yet also quite timeless — script he wrote with Vittorio Moroni, is set on a remote Sicilian island whose summer tourist trade has become more lucrative than its longtime, now-dwindling fishing business. However, because of its location, the isle is also a magnet for illegal African immigrants escaping to Europe.

One day at sea, the aging Ernesto (Mimmo Cuticchio), a tradition-bound, lifelong fisherman, and his 20-year-old grandson Filippo (Filippo Pucillo) secretly rescue a vulnerable boatload of Ethiopian refugees, which includes the very pregnant Sara (Timnit T.) and her young son. Ernesto’s daughter (and Filippo’s mother), Giulietta (Donatella Finocchiaro), is a restless widow renting her home to a carefree trio of Italian vacationers. After she delivers Sara’s baby, a precarious bond forms between the wary Giulietta and the desperate young mother. This sets off a deep wave of social, moral and emotional reflection — and recalibration — for all involved.

Perhaps most affected, though, is the impulsive, rudderless Filippo, who also works for his entrepreneurial uncle — and Ernesto’s son — Nino (Giuseppe Fiorello). The severity of Sara’s plight will result in a gutsy, much-needed call to action for Filippo which, like so much else in this insightful film, proves a stirring commentary on our better angels.



“Terraferma.” MPAA rating: R for some language and brief nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. In Italian with English subtitles. Playing: At Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills.