Respiro

Movie Review by S Felce

Starring: Valeria Golino, Vincenzo Amato, Francesco Casisa, Veronica D’Agostino

Director: Emanuele Crialese

RESPIRO means ‘breath’ and when you live in Lampedusa, a small island to the south of Sicily, among a fishing community, where stray dogs are locked in a bunker, hidden from everybody and where even a small little boy feels the duty to order around his older sister because she is a female, you feel out of breath. Constriction and traditions suffocate you until you feel the need to take a big breath and feel alive again.

Grazia (Valeria Golino) is a young mother of three who lives on this small island, working for the local fish-packing farm while her husband comes and goes out to sea to fish. She is a free-spirit, who acts very spontaneously without any thought for the rules of the island. Her relationship with her children, her husband and the other people in the village is very genuine but unpredictable as it does not conformed to anybody else’s behaviour. The equilibrium of this small community is balanced by untold local conventions and old chauvinist traditions and her attitude to life is seen as too eccentric and for this reason dangerous. The islanders start thinking she’s ill and her husband’s family decides it would be better for her to be taken far away to Milan to be cured by a doctor.

The story is based on a legend the director Crialese learnt about while staying in Lampedusa. The legend is about a woman who drowned herself in the sea after the community tried to lock her away because they thought her mad. After her suicide, the islanders felt very guilty so they started praying until she was brought back by the sea.

In RESPIRO Crialese has found a better way to melt legend and reality. He makes fun of superstitions and conventions, and yet he keeps the tone of a fable. This is what makes this film so fascinating. The story is told like it was a dream with amazing under sea shots but the cruelty of real life always comes back to you. Crialese takes the viewer deep inside this small community, exploring its customs and traditions, without being intrusive or giving any judgement. The sea is a presence, almost like another character, regulating the life of the islanders, especially Grazia, who seems to have a special bond with it.

RESPIRO is an escape to a remote island. It’s a good night story and a true window on a remote community. Take it as you want to, it won’t fail to charm in every way.

5 out of 6 stars

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