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Laramie Movie Scope:
Fire at Sea

A documentary with a split personality

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 7, 2016 -- This is a documentary about two different things, connected by a single thread. On the one hand, you have the tragedy of refugees fleeing for their lives, taking terrible chances. On the other hand, you have placid lives of the natives of the Italian island of Lampedusa, going about their business, their lives entirely separate from the desperate plight of the refugees who land on the same island in leaky boats.

The only thing connecting these two stories is a doctor, Pietro Bartolo. He treats both the residents of Lampedusa, and he treats the refugees as well. Dr. Bartolo, pointing at pictures of refugees, says, “It's the duty of every human being to help these people. When we succeed, we're happy, we're glad we could help them out. At times, unfortunately, it's not possible. So I have to witness these awful things, dead bodies, children. On these occasions, I am forced to do the thing I hate most: examining cadavers.”

Dr. Bartolo continues about the examinations of the dead, “I've done so many, maybe too many. Many of my colleagues say, ‘you've seen so many, you're used to it.’ It's not true. How can you get used to seeing dead children. Pregnant women, women who've given birth on sinking boats, umbilical cords still attached? You put them in the bags, coffins. You have to take samples. You have to cut off a finger, or a rib. You have to cut the ear off a child. Even after death, another affront, but it has to be done, so I do it. All this leaves you so angry, it leaves you with emptiness in your gut, a hole. It makes you think. You dream about them. These are nightmares I relive, often – often.”

Refugees talk about not only the perilous sea voyages that sometimes last a week or more with little water or food, but perilous treks through African countries, or through the Middle East, walking through deserts, through unfriendly countries to get to a port where they can have a chance to escape to Europe.

A short distance from where this refugee talks of his desperate journey, a young boy, Samuele, plays with a slingshot he made. He and his friends play on the island, completely oblivious to the tragedy around them. Samuele's parents and the rest of his family, carry on, fishing and living as the islanders have for generations, entirely separate from the refugees. Dr. Bartolo examines Samuele for a possible asthmatic condition in one scene.

If Bartolo is right that it is the duty of every human being to help these refugees, this film is an example how that is not happening. Very few people are doing all the helping. Very few people are shouldering the burden of this tragedy. Increasingly, as the nativist movements rise in Europe and America. More people turn their backs on the refugees, and the wars which make them flee in the first place. I am not my brother's keeper, despite what I profess to believe.

Maybe that is the point of this documentary about these two different groups of people composed of desperate refugees, and locals who are nearby, but completely disconnected from their plight.

The visual style of the film is annoyingly static in many scenes, with fixed cameras pointed at repetitive actions, like knitting, cooking, making a bed, fishing or play. I've seen this style of filming before in other documentaries. I really don't care for it. I've seen this enough, cut to the next shot already. This film has too much of this dull, repetitive activity.

The locals in the story aren't nearly as interesting as the refugees. Among the locals are a diver, a fisherman, a radio disc jockey, the boy, Samuele, and a few others. It might have been interesting to hear what the island residents have to say about the refugee crisis, but other than Dr. Bartolo's heartfelt statements, the subject hardly comes up at all. As a reporter, that is a question I would ask them. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2016 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)