I’m afraid the Viennale programme didn’t do this documentary any favors in indicating that – like “Last Shelter” – “Lampedusa in Winter” would first and foremost deal with the refugee crisis. Instead, Jakob Brossmann wanted to portay the island itself, as well as its inhabitants, in order to show the people behind the news. And while I can appreciate that objective, ultimately I would have preferred a different approach.
My main issue with “Lampedusa in Winter” is that I found everything that dealt – even remotely – with the refugee crisis much more interesting than the parts about the struggles of Lampedusa’s inhabitants. Don’t get me wrong, of course they are people who, despite the fact of where they live, have their own problems, and face their own challenges. And in a different context, I would have very much felt for and sympathized with them. However, contrasted with the plight and struggle of the refugees, their strike concerning the ferry seemed rather mundane in comparison. I don’t want to shrug off their problems, but compared to countless refugees that drown in the Mediterranean Sea, it was a little difficult for me to really feel for them. I also felt that the middle part of the documentary dragged a bit. I was further irritated by the fact that after the immediate crisis surrounding the occupation of a church is solved, we never again return to the five refugees that have to stay behind. And as much as I appreciated the fact that Jakob Brossmann refrained from a direct commentary, a little bit more background information here and there would have been nice. Lastly, some scenes seemed staged to me, and while I believe Brossmann when he says that everything happened as we see it, I still got the impression that some of the things that were said and done were mostly for the camera. Not on his insistence, but rather because the people knew that there was a camera pointed at them. Then again, that’s just my impression, and I don’t rule out that everyone acted natural and just as they would have done if there wouldn’t have been a camera around.
Having said that, it should come as no surprise that everything that directly related to the refugee crisis worked best for me. That’s were “Lampedusa in Winter” really managed to grip me, and where it featured its best, strongest and most haunting scenes. Like with the S.O.S. at the beginning, or the devastating scene where they sift through a boat that capsized, with all hands lost. Or the museum of things found in such boats. Or the collection of letters and diary’s salvaged from the sea, that provide an insight into the thoughts of some of those who perished at sea, after going on this journey in the hope of a better future. Or the interview with the lady who received the S.O.S. signal that we hear in the beginning. Or the final rescue mission which in a way circled back to the beginning of the movie. All those scenes were very powerful and haunting. For me personally, it was also extremely depressing to see the mayor or Lampedusa take such a personal stance during the crisis with the occupied church, since I immediately asked myself where our politicians were when some refugees occupied the Votiv church (see my review of the aforementioned “Last Shelter”). Why couldn’t they react in a similar way? Instead, they did nothing, and just waited for the issue to resolve itself. Thus, seeing a different – better – way to deal with a situation like that was quite frustrating for me.
All in all, everything that directly dealt with the plight of the refugees, as well as the distressing subject of countless people losing their lives while trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, really managed to grip and affect me. But whenever “Lampedusa in Winter” turned its attention to the struggles of the inhabitants of the island, it lost its appeal for me – which is why overall, I felt it to be a little bit of a mixed bag. Despite that, I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who is interested in this current hot topic.