In a Sicilian fishing village, Grazia (Valeria Golino) is an object of concern to her husband Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) and the rest of her family. While she is a loving wife and mother, she seems oblivious to social convention and often behaves in reckless, eccentric ways – whether swimming topless in the sea, or inviting herself on a boat trip with some strange men. Increasingly she becomes a subject of gossip, until Pietro decides she must be sent to Milan for medical treatment, against her will. But her loving eldest son, 13 year old Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) finds a way to help her escape.
Review by Jake Wilson:
Yet another reasonably slick exercise in arthouse pastoral, inviting us to fantasise about the joys of a simple life untroubled by wealth or gender politics. Frankly adopting a tourist’s point of view, director Emanuele Crialese is never happier than when he can arrange a couple of dozen extras as figures in a landscape – as in the opening sequence where a flock of half-naked kids, their tanned bodies a shade darker than the pale sands, tussle on the beach in aggressive mock combat. The editing has a smooth, lulling rhythm, conveying a sensuous impression of the battle rather than shaping it into drama; you could almost believe you were lying on the beach yourself, basking in the sun. Physically immediate yet dreamy, these vignettes of lively group activity have a freshness Crialese fails to achieve in his would-be lyrical shots of bodies drifting underwater – a cliché only the greatest directors could hope to redeem. The biggest problems emerge once the plot kicks in, since Valeria Golino is neither credible nor charismatic as a deranged free spirit (her big scenes are a bit like a John Cassavetes film without the acting). A related problem is that Crialese tends to gloss over the relationship between the adventures of Pasquale and his siblings (which occupy much of the running time) and the fundamentally painful adult situation. At times it’s hinted that the whole film could be seen as a kind of infantile fantasy, centered on Pasquale’s unusually intimate bond with his mother. But if the film explored this idea in any depth it might risk alienating its audience – casting aspersions on our natural desire for pretty pictures and sleepy, nostalgic sentiment.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
You could say Respiro is an old fashioned Italian film, set in a gorgeous location which is of no consequence to either the characters or the filmmakers. It’s just a place for the action, which is a slice of fishing village life. This is very slight material for the accolades the film has earned, but perhaps its charm is its greatest attraction. Valeria Golino makes a feisty young mother who seems to be borderline unbalanced – but not much more so than any of the rest of her village. The charm comes from her relationship with her 13 year old son, Pasquale, which is more mature than her relationship with her husband. But that's not so far fetched….. The cultural environment adds a sense of place, but there is not enough of this to be a real subtext and the film fails to satisfy as much as it promises to at the start.
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Mixed: 2 (Andrew, Jake)
CAST: Valeria Golino, Vincenzo Amato, Francesco Casisa, Veronica D’agostino, Filippo Pucillo, Emma Loffredo
PRODUCER: Domenico Procacci
DIRECTOR: Emanuele Crialese, Pierre-Yves Lavouè
SCRIPT: Emanuele Crialese
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Fabio Zamarion
EDITOR: Emmanuel Croset
MUSIC: not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Camille D’Arcimoles
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney & Melbourne: June 26, 2003; other cities to follow