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In Emanuele Crialese's lyrical drama Respiro, the sky is gorgeous. The
is gorgeous. The harsh landscape is gorgeous. The children, even when
are behaving like little monsters, are gorgeous. The lead actress is
gorgeous. There is so much obvious and intentional gorgeousness about
picture that we have to dig far down, past the scene painting, to find
Although subtitled Grazia's island (Grazia is the lead role, magnificently realised by Valeria Golino), Respiro could have well been called "Scenes from rural Sicilian life", as the scenography, cinematography and tableaux-like imagery seem as important to the director as her thin narrative line. Respiro's locale is Lampedusa, a tiny island far off the west coast of Sicily. About the same latitude as Malta, this place is about as remote as it gets - Tunis is closer than Palermo. It can be safe to say that Italian time here has pretty much stood still for decades; this is Italy of de Sica and Mascagni, not Fellini and Prada. The men go out to sea, the children play, women pack fish, old black-clad crones meddle and the languid summer air of total boredom hangs down from the cloudless sky.
The story is fairly typical, the type that a few great (and many, many average) Italian filmmakers have been serving up for the last three generations - life in the sun drenched rural, ritualistic and tribal south and the saga of one village denizen who dares to break the moulds. How long since Cinema Paradiso?
Grazia (incidentally, the name means "grace" - get it?) is a loving, rebellious humanist - she loves her children, she loves music, she loves swimming in her panties, she loves the Vespa-propelled wind in her hair and loathes the suffering of any living creature. She does not love to cook, or put on rubber wellies and plastic smock to pack sardines. This high-spirited recklessness is just a bit too much for this dusty place and she is duly deemed mad. Golino, who acts in four languages and has had decent parts in Leaving Las Vegas, Immortal Beloved and Frida, is a joy to watch. There is not a moment forced or unnatural about her performance and this is saying a fair bit, considering her several mad scenes. She conveys brilliantly the purgatory of a loving woman who wants more, but knows neither what it is nor how to get it.
After two incidents (one just a bit lusty, the other bordering on a bit off) it is decided by the meddling crones and village busybodies to send Grazia off to a sanatorium in Milan, which might as well be Mars. She will have no part of this and her 13-year-old son hides her in a secluded cave. Her ensuing escape, seclusion and discovery offer us some more gorgeous imagery and displays the motherly bonding quite well. Yes, the imagery does go a bit down the obvious, biblical, redemptive female roads, but it well handled. Water, which has played quite a large role in the director's concept, stars in a few more scenes. It also features in the film's ending, which is spiritual, gorgeous and inconclusive in the same breadth. Love and human devotion may win, but this gal is not going to be packing sardines for much longer!
The movie, considering the almost rudimentary story line, is incredibly rich. The smallest characters are well defined and there is wonderful juxtaposition between formal Italian and the coarse regional dialect. Much of the cast is so natural you could believe them to be locals. The essence of life in such a village is well captured and the relationships within a family are well explored as well. And there is enough of the magical landscape of the place to make you want to board the next Alitalia jet. For a visit, that is.
This is really and simply a wonderful film. I saw it by accident, so it
me by surprise. The film is like other (very good) Italian films in that
features a simple story, wonderful characters, lots of 'couleur locale',
very good actors. And then add some very nice shots and a superb
If I was reading this, I would start to fear for a film that gets lost in its niceness and remains too light. But not Respiro (or Lampedusa, after the island it was filmed at). Already in the opening scenes it is made clear that there is a lot of violence and suspense in the air. Not that there is any blood to be seen in this film. There is a lot of fighting between groups of young boys and the adults defend their honor with physical violence, but things never get really mean.
Between the beauty of the island and the harshness of existence on it walks, no, floats, one woman named Grazia. The camera loves her, her sons love her, and even the other islanders love her. But she too different, too non-conforming to be tolerated in the long run.
In an interesting twist, it is not Grazia but her son Pasquale who is the story teller in this film. We see things through his eyes and it is only through him that we get to know his wonderful but mysterious mother. Like the rest of the village, Pasquale is torn between convention and love for her. With him being a 13 (or so) year old in a very traditional family, it is totally believable that we see Pasquale commanding his mother to not swim in the sea in one scene, and adoringly follow her in the next.
And this sums up the film for me: A simple but beautiful story, with an undercurrent of critique or bewilderment at the traditional family style and its low tolerance for being different; a very positive outlook and a love for life, which is shared by all and reflected in the end of the movie; and beautiful and sometimes magical atmosphere which is the most difficult thing ever to create in a movie.
Go see this movie!
PS I you like this movie, consider seeing Blier's "Un, deux, trois, soleil" which is so obscure that I wanted to mention it here.
This movie is a good example of showing that it is possible to produce high quality films without spending too much. The scenario is very well written and characters are well chosen. Every single person fits their role very well that I couldn't help thinking that such a village really exists. Especially Grazia and her younger son are acting very well. The younger son is so natural and has great talent. As for the Grazia, she is showing the character of a caring and sometimes crazy mother with her gestures and talks. The landscape in the film makes you feel like going holiday in the Mediterranean. The sea, sky and the landscape are absolutely beautiful. After seeing this film, I have realized that the rural lives by the sea in many countries are similar, the differences are in the languages, but the feelings are same.
Emanuele Crialese's Respiro is alive, sensual, and transcendent. Set in
Lampedusa, an island southwest of Sicily, it is a film about mothers and
sons, accepting differences, and the power of love to bring renewal and
reconciliation. Gorgeously filmed by cinematographer Fabio Zamarion, Respiro
captivates us with its bright Mediterranean sunlight and the expressive
faces of the people, tanned and strikingly beautiful. Winner of the 2002
Cannes Critics Week award, the film is based on a local legend about a
mother whose behavior was found to be offensive by the community and whose
subsequent disappearance was the catalyst that brought the people together.
Crialese's film has the feeling of myth and legend but also the overtones of
the great Italian realist dramas of the 50s and 60s.
As gangs of unsupervised pre-teens carry out intermittent warfare among the desolate beaches and rocky landscapes, everyday life centers on fishing. While the husbands do the fishing, wives work in the fish processing plant and the boys help out their fathers and catch fish to use as trade for a chance to win an electric train set. Grazia (Valeria Golino) is the wife of macho but loving fisherman, Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) and mother of three: 13-year old Pasquale (Francesco Casisa), younger brother Filippo (Filippo Pucillo), and older sister Marinella (Veronica D'Agostino). Golina is radiant as the headstrong young mother and Casisa's performance as Pasquale completely captures the budding sexual awareness of a pre-teen. The film reflects the warmth of the Italian family and the closeness that Italian sons feel for their mothers but also depicts the old-fashioned attitudes of the tight-knit community, especially the subjugation of women.
In a revealing scene, Pasquale's brother, the adorable but mouthy Filippo and his friends follow his older sister Marinella to a private meeting place where she is seeking privacy with a shy young policeman, Pier Luigi (Elio Germano). Affronted by their seeming public display of affection, Filippo, less than half their size, confronts the two lovers and threatens to beat them up unless his sister goes home immediately. Unfortunately, everything is not right on the island. Grazia's behavior is increasingly defined by erratic mood swings. She flings dishes across the room, swims naked with her sons, and releases a herd of dogs from captivity, but it is not clear if she is ill or just rebellious and the film walks a tightrope between suggesting madness or the eccentricities of a free spirit.
It is soon apparent that the community has their own thoughts about her actions and she is seen as a threat to the social order. When Grazia's antics threaten to reach the breaking point, Pietro's family decides to send her to Milan to receive psychiatric treatment. Pasquale, however, always understanding and protective of his mother, hides her in one of the many caves along the rocky shore, bringing her food and reporting news of the search for her whereabouts. The ending can be interpreted in many different ways but I was touched by its haunting beauty. Is it to be taken literally, a dream of Pasquale's perhaps, or a fairy tale constructed from legend? I'm not sure but in any case, Respiro's combination of magic realism, natural beauty, and humanistic message will have you pricing the tickets for a trip to Lampedusa.
This is the first film by Emanuele Crialese that has played locally, I
think, or if any other has come in, it hasn't played commercially.
The film is beautifully done with the fantastic backdrop of the Italian island of Lampedusa. This is a very arid place with almost no vegetation at all. The heat, obviously, must be oppressive, as the sun punishes this land and its people constantly to the point that children act as savages, as proven by the opening scenes.
Among these rascals are Pasquale and Filippo, the sons of Grazia, the housewife at the center of the story. She lives in her own world. She is a rebel and a free soul. Grazia's actions are seen as madness by her husband Pietro and his mother, who lives next door. It is the classic family from forgotten towns such as this, where everyone knows everyone's business. The only solution for Grazia's problems is to send her away to a Milan institution that perhaps will turn her into a vegetable. Her only sin is to be different, therefore, she is the town's eccentric. All her neighbors think she's a lunatic.
By Grazia withdrawing from the world, she appears to be a maladjusted person, which she isn't. She just loves to be free; swimming is her passion and her life, running around the island in her scooter is another form of freedom from the realities of home. In trying to escape her lot in life, Grazia discovers how much her son Pasquale loves her. The final scenes after the disappearance with the search party on the beach are typical of the same society that condemned Grazia but never took steps to show her any kindness. The miracle that occurs at the end is that perhaps Pietro realizes that in spite of his wife's apparent madness he has found how much he really needs her.
This is a simple story told with a sure hand by the director, who also wrote the screen play.
Valeria Golino, who has spent a few years in minor roles in Hollywood, is very effective as Grazia. She shows a great range of emotions under the sure direction of Crialese. It is amazing no one has made anything worth of Ms. Golino's talent, or that she has been forgotten by the Italian cinema; or that no one has come to her with projects such as this film.
As her husband, Vincenzo Amato is very effective. Also, Francesco Casisa as Pasquale makes a splendid appearance. This young man with the proper guidance has the potential of making a big splash in the Italian cinema.
RESPIRO is a lovely and intriguing film set on the lonely Mediterranean
island of Lampedusa, between Sicily and Tunisia. The main character is
Grazia, played by the marvelously beautiful Valeria Golino. She is a
mother with a few problems connecting with reality, a wayward
independent spirit who attracts the ire of the islanders, especially
the women who view her almost as a witch and her husband Pietro
(Vincenzo Amato) who is at his wit's end. It is a theme it shares in
common with Tornatore's MALENA, made in 2000.
Grazia has three children: a lovely daughter who is attracted to and attracted by a policeman from the mainland, and two adoring sons, whose affection is overtly and uncomfortably oedipal at times. They spend much of their energies comforting their mom, defending her against verbal attacks, supplying her with food when she goes off into hiding from those who want to send her to Milan for treatment, which, in truth, she probably could use. The rest of the time they are chasing birds, hanging out on the main drag with the girls and other friends. Pantsing each other on the beach seems to have become one of the island's most common sporting activities among the young.
What I like most about the movie, besides the appealing scenery, was the interrelations of the characters, the humor, petty gossips, the impromptu emotional outbursts, the displays of maternal and filial affection. The two boys are tremendous: the older Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) is the more mature of the two. The younger Filippo (Filippo Pucillo) has an unregulated diarrhea mouth filled with hilarious and inspired ravings, often without sense. His rant against the busybody women is a treasure, as is his little-brother-as-big-brother protectiveness of his sister from the policeman-friend. The boy embodies an epic Italianate inflammability far beyond his years.
The mysterious end evocative ending, in which Grazia, believed drowned, emerges from the water's depths on Saint Bartolo's Day, is quite beautifully conceived. Fine too are the musical score by John Surman, and the precise and suggestive direction by Emanuele Crialese. I enjoyed this film so much I went to see it several times.
A most affecting film and a fine cinematic achievement. It has been noted by others that there is barely a sympathetic character, little story and a largely bleak landscape. All the more wonder then that Crialese manages to so engage us with what is a truly scary film. We have seen westerns, even films of gangland where men are men and women do what they are told, but here children too are involved. This film must be hard to take for an Italian audience because, although here the events take place on a tiny island way off Sicily, the basic traits of Italian society are laid bare. All the men boss the women and children about but to see the young boys telling their mothers and aunts what to do is difficult territory for a 'civilised' audience. Of course, these traits are also still evident in all societies and it is all the more disturbing for these to be highlighted in this manner because we find it convenient to ignore them. I must also say that the music was impressive and the ending majestic. A must see film.
The movie gives us a vivid and ruthless description of the odyssey of a
rebel housewife, described with passionate and emotional involvement
without giving vent to any sort of conceptualism. This touching story
has been inspired by the legend of a mysterious woman who disappeared a
long time ago in Lampedusa (an island in the sea of Sicily, the
southern point of Europe.). Grazia, the catalyst character of the
story, a restless married woman of unusual habits, is considered a nut,
an irresponsible person who can't participate fully in the life of
society, being forced into total imagination. If it hadn't been for an
out-of-date husband, maybe she would have turned her beauty to better
Unable to stifle her feelings and to bear the heavy burden of age-old customs, she blows a fuse, ready to abandon home, land and property to flee into the unknown. As the intolerant member of an archaic fishermen community whose behavior leaves much to be desired, not tuned to her same emotional wavelength, not contaminated by the standardization of the modern society, she's quite resolved to preserve every traditional values and social structures, without leaving space for human relationships not predetermined by time-honored customs faithfully handed on from father to son. In this forgotten land where the younger brothers strive to safeguard the reputation of their mothers, the alienated Grazia, (played by a touching and wonderful Valeria Golino), generally considered to be either a very wretched woman or, even worse, a lunatic one, is eager to undertake a journey towards the complete fulfillment of her hopes, yearning for the sight of her deep blue sea, complying with her inner desire for emancipation. In her unremitting efforts to achieve ultimate freedom, the same freedom bestowed by her upon the dogs waiting to be slaughtered, she strives to get over her existential dimension of illness, feeling like a fish out of water, with fear in her eyes, eager to feel the warm embrace of the sea, restored to a sort of primitive amniotic fluid and changing her uneasy feelings into unlimited pleasure.
The movie shows us the epos of a picturesque island where even the children's games reflect the savage nature of the surrounding environment. To be considered at the same time the celebration of a land and of rough people stubbornly bound together by a close friendship without any will to open up new horizons, conforming to precise religious rules (Our Lady's statue brought down the sounding-depth), careful not to mistake the will of sound emancipation for the abolition of every moral scruples. Decided not to be corrupted by vices of more developed social strata.
Tribal simplicity; throwback to the time of Ulysses
and pagan gods; almost anthropological in recording the explosion of life in
a fishing community isolated from
modernity on a tiny island, Lampedusa, far off the southwestern coast of
Sicily, alone in the middle of the
Mediterranean Sea, every nook and cranny roasted by the meat-eating
Shirtless packs of boys hunt and fight amid Fellini-esque seaside ruins. They pile trash into huge pyres on the beach for St. Bartolo's Day. The movie is physical, movement and light; a small film, whimsical, imperfect; almost plotless, verging on the dream of fable. You almost taste salt air, smell the sweat. Sex is everywhere. Only Rousseauan natural law holds this society together, barely.
Lust for Life boils over in the veins of a young mother, Grazia (Valeria Golino), propelling her beyond the bounds, to the consternation of all. After she sets the wild dogs loose, they want to send her away, but "the girl can't help it," to quote Little Richard. Dry little men would cluck leathery little tongues, eructate city odors, and pronounce that she suffered "mood swings," perhaps be so bold as to label her "manic depressive." But she's Grazia, Grace, the breath (respiro) of life which animates all, loves all. She cannot be tamed.
They want her gone, so she leaves. Woe to them. The Oedipal hubris of her older son (Francesco Casisa) finds her a cave to hide in. As punishment, he falls into a swoon, a dream of chickens. Her husband (Vincenzo Amato II), beside himself with grief, believing she drowned, places a statuette of the Madonna on the sea bottom. The irony is that Grazia redeems too, but not that way. The reunion is magical, Grazia risen from the dead, an image not to be forgotten.
It's been a long time since I left the theater smiling.
I bought this film back in 2002 when I was first learning Italian, it's
absolutely fabulous. Francesco Casisa and Filippo Pucillo are superb as
Pasquale and Filippo and of course Valeria Golino as usual gives a
perfect performance in her role of Grazia.
The DVD that I bought has American subtitles which are desperately awful in places but manage to convey more or less what's being said.
The soundtrack is very unusual, I love the original incidental music and its recurring theme which is repeated throughout the film.
This is also where I first heard La Bambola by Patti Bravo.
Some complain about the ending but I love it; watch the film to see what you think....
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