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Grazia is a mother of three who spends suffocating days packing fish while her husband Pietro is at sea. Her oft-erratic behavior leads Pietro into thinking she may need medical attention, and he prepares to send her off to a psychiatric institute in Milan. Their son Pasquale, the one person who understand his mother the most, vows to do whatever it takes to foil his father's plan. Written by
Sun kissed bodies and azure waters permeate the landscape of Emanuele Crialese's "Respiro", which was a big hit at Cannes. Critics have described the film's simple, character-driven storyline as "very Italianesque", but for me this film has a haunting quality that transcends other recent Italian films and places it amongst the true gems of modern European cinema.
The story revolves around Grazia (an enthralling Valeria Golino) who lives on a picturesque Italian fishing island. She's a beautiful free spirit, but is prone to rabid mood swings and highly erratic behavior. Her husband (Vicenzo Amato) is convinced she is mentally ill, and needs treatment in Milan, but her eldest son Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) is determined to protect her.
There are several other sub plots, involving Pasquale's sister and her involvement with a local cop and gangs of troublesome boys on the beach, but essentially this is a film about Grazia seen through Pasquale's eyes. Having a young boy as the protagonist is fast becoming a trait of Italian cinema ("Cinema Paradiso", "Malena"), but none the less it works well here, perfectly capturing Pasquale divided between convention and his love for his mother.
There is no denying Emanuele Crialese's talent. There are scenes of such haunting beauty throughout this film, captured with Fabio Zamarion's excellent cinematography. The sensuous beauty of Grazia and of the ocean are so alluring and captivating, they draw you into this vivid landscape. This film's ending has to be one of the most haunting scenes I've seen, brilliantly captured and teamed with John Surman's score. It will stay with you for days.
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