Here is the crucial scene in this excellent drama: Three Italian fishermen spot a large number of black Africans stranded on a flimsy lifeboat in the open sea. The black Africans wave and yell for help. The owner of the fishing boat, Ernesto (Mimmo Cuticchio), radios the Coast Guard and gives them information about the situation. The Coast Guard orders the fisherman not to go near the Africans but also not to leave the area until their patrol boat arrives. Suddenly, one by one, some of the desperate Africans jump into the sea and attempt to swim toward the fishing boat. Ernesto then decides to move closer to the Africans and help them out of the dangerous sea. But another fisherman reminds him that it is against the law to help illegal immigrants. The owner of the boat responds: “I’ve never left people on the sea…” It is that moral code, that moral certainty, that is at the heart of Terraferma: These are not Africans, stateless illegals, or whatever; these are humans.
Interestingly, there is another movie playing this week at the Northwest Film Forum, The Pirogue, that has the exact same situation: sea-stranded black Africans calling for help from a passing boat. But this time the captain of the passing boat is a black African who is transporting black Africans to Europe. This captain does not make the same decision as Ernesto, and so empties his entire trip and trade of all moral substance. This week, try to watch both (Terraferma and The Pirogue) movies back-to-back. Your understanding of Europe’s immigration crisis will be improved considerably.