A review of “Respiro” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for nudity and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.  In Italian with English subtitles

 

 

A picture is worth a thousand words; never more so than in the case of this lush valentine to the Sicilian coast and its achingly emotive inhabitants.

The everyday rhythms of Sicily’s sun-baked Lampedusa Island are captured with grace and élan by an untrained cast of newcomers and an ethereal Valeria Golino as Grazia – wife, mother, and unfettered free spirit.  While rival boy-gangs play rough on the seaside cliffs, the men cast their fishing nets to the aquamarine waters and their wives tend to their homes and the local fish-packing plants.

Grazia is a child of the sea, all tousled beauty and alarming temperament.  Her subtly shifting moods are the talk of the village, much to the chagrin of her devoted husband Pietro (hunky, hunky Vincenzo Amato) and their three lively children.  Grazia’s spells are particularly troubling to 13-year old Pasquale (Francesco Casisa), who stubbornly resolves to defend his mother’s rights to her independence.

Pietro helplessly observes his wife’s behavior growing more and more reckless (abruptly flinging off a skimpy sundress for a nude swim in full view of the local fishing boats, etc.) while attempting in vain to shield her from the village gossips and his own meddling mother, who insists that Grazia be sent to Milan for psychological treatment.  Frightened at the thought of being put away, the impulsive Grazia makes her most desperate move.

“Respiro” is a mood piece that speaks volumes about tolerance and the insular culture of traditional island living.  The desperate arid landscape of Lampedusa is in striking contrast to the tranquil clarity of the turquoise waters lapping the island’s edge. Juxtaposition of reality (cruel non-conformity) and fantasy (Grazia as a diaphanous creature in communion with the sea) offers the exhilarating freedom of narrative choice.

Dialogue is kept spare; the visual images let loose to flow with their own comely sentiment.  Golino is magnificently earthy as an effervescent woman of healthy appetites who may be mentally ill, or merely tragically misunderstood.