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Valentino and Salvo, unemployed and in search of fortune and recommendation, leave Palermo for Valentino's home town, Monteforte, where they will try to survive the Italian crisis by opening some sort of hospice.
"Terraferma" has an awful lot of things going on in it. Set on the isle of Sicily off of Italy's southern coast, there's a generational battle going on between a grandfather, his son and a grandson over the family fishing boat and business. There's a battle going on between the grandson and his mother over his future. There's a battle going on between the business/tourism faction of the island and the problem of illegal immigration. There's a battle between the Italian Coast Guard and the older generation of fishermen over the practice of the traditional "Law of the Sea." There's a battle between the local police force (the carabinieri) and the fishermen.
All these battles come together one fateful night when the grandfather adheres to tradition and refuses to leave African emmigrants in the water to drown. The ramifications of this act reverberate through all members of his family, even more so when he refuses to turn a pregnant woman over to the police and gives her shelter.
The film focuses on the character of Filippo, the grandson torn between the generations. Respectful and almost adoring of his grandfather, his belief in him (and his grandfather's beliefs) is challenged in the film's most disturbing scene. He is given the chance to uphold the "Law of the Sea" - and fails.
It sounds hackneyed to call "Terraferma" a 'coming of age' story. The difference here is that Filippo is not the only one coming of age. The grandfather, the son, the grandson, the mother and the nation itself are all coming of age - a new, global age with a whole new set of challenges. How do traditions survive in this age? With great difficulty, but by one person at a time.
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