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Film / Fire at Sea

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Fire at Sea is a 2016 film from Italy, directed by Gianfranco Rosi.

It is set on Lampedusa Island, a little flyspeck of land belonging to Italy but only 113 km away from the African coast (Tunisia, specifically). Much of the film follows the adventures of a 12-year-old boy named Samuele, who does the kind of things you'd expect a 12-year-old boy on an island to do, like go on his dad's fishing boat or make his own slingshot. Samuele's happy young life is contrasted with something else happening on Lampedusa: namely, the European migrant crisis. Lampedusa, being part of Italy and thus the European Union but also being so close to Africa, is a major entry point for waves of refugees from sub-Saharan Africa. They take to the waters of the Mediterranean Sea on rickety, overloaded boats, making a dangerous journey that often involves either people dying of dehydration or people dying when their boats sink.



  • Brats with Slingshots: A long sequence involves Samuele and his buddy making slingshots from tree branches, and then testing out their slingshots by taking target practice against cacti.
  • Contrast Montage: Effectively the whole film is this, contrasting Samuele's happy-go-lucky life on the island with the terrible suffering of the African refugees who arrive there.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: As Samuele's grandma chops tomatoes in the kitchen, the radio broadcasts a report about the dead bodies of refugees being retrieved from the Mediterranean.
  • Documentary: A fly-on-the-wall documentary of life on Lampedusa, which lacks many of the standard documentary tropes like a Narrator (instead there's only an opening title sequence explaining the crisis) or The Ken Burns Effect.
  • Gratuitous English: Samuele's grasp of English is certainly better than a typical American child's grasp of Italian, but it's still funny when his English homework involves him reading a story about Christopher Columbus in a near-unintelligible accent, or when he and his teacher both manage to turn words like "shocked" into two syllables.
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  • Match Cut: There's a cut from some squid on the family fishing boat, still twitching, to Samuele's grandma chopping up presumably those same squid at home.
  • The Oner: Most every shot in the film is a long static shot in which the camera barely moves. Samuele making a slingshot, a doctor treating an African woman pregnant with twins, Samuele's grandma making the bed—long shots, static camera.
  • Talking Heads: None in the classic sense, but there is one scene where a refugee on a ship does a sort of rap, in English, in which he describes his harrowing journey from Nigeria to Lampedusa.
  • Title Drop:
    • Samuele's grandma reminisces about World War II when she was a little girl. She tells him that "The ships fired rockets, and at was like fire at sea."
    • Later the grandma calls in to the radio station and asks for a song called "Fire at Sea" to be dedicated to her son, a fisherman then out on the water.
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot: Not a total one, but there is a long shot where the camera shows the sun in the sky, in partial eclipse, a slice missing from its side.