Combustible Celluloid
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With: Pietro Bartolo, Samuele Puccilo
Written by: Gianfranco Rosi, Carla Cattani
Directed by: Gianfranco Rosi
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 114
Date: 12/09/2016

Fire at Sea (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Slingshot Stories

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This fascinating, remarkable documentary from Italy is being submitted to the Academy for Best Foreign Language Film, banking on the notion that its artistry is enough to rank it against fiction films in the same category. It's set on Lampedusa, an island situated halfway between Africa and Italy, and a regular stopping point for Africans emigrating to Europe. The residents of the island regularly see unbelievable horrors, starting with starvation and dehydration, and ranging all the way to bizarre and horrifying fuel burns. But director Gianfranco Rosi (no relation to Francesco Rosi) isn't interested in simply wringing his hands and saying "isn't all this terrible?" Instead, he gives us another half of the movie, the residents of Lampedusa going about their daily business, their lives generally untouched by the nearby tragedies. The main focus is on a boy, Samuele, who loves making and firing slingshots, and who eventually needs to wear a corrective eyepatch for a lazy eye. Rosi shoots these sequences with a Wiseman-like observation, seeming not to intrude on the delicate rhythms and creating stories. The end result is transporting, but also moving; it's a wake-up call, asking us to think about how much attention we really pay to what's around us, and — perhaps more importantly — what to do about it?

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