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Emanuele Crialese (“Respiro”) sets “Terraferma” on a Sicilian island undergoing a painful transition from old ways to new. Ernesto (Mimmo Cuttichio) is an aging fisherman — part of a long line of men making their living from the sea — and he is training his fatherless grandson, Filippo (Filippo Pucillo), a restless young adult, to take up the trade.

There’s a problem: The fishing industry has dried up on the island, and most of the seafaring community now caters to young tourists looking for boat parties and vacation rentals.

Fillipo’s mother, Giulietta (Donatella Finocchiaro), a widow, decides to ride the trend over Ernesto’s objections, renting out the family home while she and her family stay in the garage.

Caught between tradition and change is Filippo, who loudly embraces his lack of worldliness yet hankers to find a path for himself. He gets that opportunity when he and Ernesto break local laws rescuing several drowning illegal immigrants and harboring three of them — Sara (Timnit T.), her young son and newborn baby — in the garage with Giulietta.

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Crialese and co-screenwriter Vittorio Moroni portray a way of life on that island in complete uproar, including the sight of noble fishing boats overrun with dancing sun worshippers, a raft of African refugees stranded off a Sicilian shore and uniformed authorities intimidating grizzled seamen.

In the midst of these jarring changes to an ancient world, “Terraferma’s” story is ultimately Filippo’s dramatic rite-of-passage to adulthood — on his own terms.

Tom Keogh:

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