Islands often seem like idyllic places to leave. Warm ocean waters to swim
in, sandy beaches to stroll along, and a seafood lover’s cornucopia.
But if you’re not on vacation, living on an island can be
a bore. Such is the reality for Grazia (Golina) and
her preadolescent sons. On the dusty island of Lampedusa,
near western coast of Sicily, life moves at a maddeningly
slow pace. The scenery is stark, and the local cuisine isn’t
so exciting when you have to gut it all day long.
The kids are bored, kicking around
the sandy island with nothing better to do than hang around
a shell of a concrete building where not a lick of shade can
provide shelter against the hot sun. And Grazia’s life is
equally as dull. When she’s not hiding out in her bedroom,
she’s cleaning fish at the local warehouse. The only excitement
in her life that helps pass the time more quickly are the
fights she has with her husband (Amato).
What are those fights about exactly?
Who knows. Quite frankly something is lost in the translation
between Italian and English. Grazia has some sort of mental
problem, but what specifically is wrong is never made clear.
At times she appears to have nothing more than a mild case
of depression exacerbated by sheer boredom. And certainly
her marriage to Amato doesn’t help. He mostly comes across
as a one-dimensional ethnic stereotype, an abusive Italian
husband with little interest in his wife’s emotional well
But at other times Grazia’s behavior
is impossible to figure out. She is prone to thrashing about
wildly, causing family members to rush to her side to administer
a “shot.” What sort of serious medical condition may explain
Grazia’s behavior is left unsaid.
The only real pleasure with Respiro
is watching another fine performance by Golino. She is perhaps
better known to most American audiences from her performances
in Rain Man, playing Tom Cruise’s verbally abused
girlfriend, and before that, her role as a trapeze artist
who captured the gentler Pee Wee Herman’s heart in
Big Top. In Respiro, Golino looks fabulous.
Not only does she still have a perfectly toned body, she matches
her physical appearance with a youthful energy. Her performance
is marked by fiery glares of defiance and eyes that flash
with muted anger at life, perhaps brought on by the tedium
of her life on Lampedusa.
But Golino’s physical presence
isn’t enough to carry the film. On top of trying to make sense
of her troubling marriage, many of the side plots in Respiro
are equally puzzling. And I give you fair warning, dog lovers
needn’t bother with this film at all. Though there is never
any frank abuse of animals on screen, one part of the film
involves an entire village of stray dogs being picked off
with shotgun blasts at the hands of local villagers.
If you’re looking for a film to
help relieve the long, hot days of summer, Respiro
may not be your best choice. This is one foreign film that
offers very little diversion from that which you may be trying