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Respiro (NR)
A Sony Pictures Classic Release
Official Site
Director: Emanuele Crialese
Producer: Domenico Procacci
Written by: Emanuele Crialese
Cast: Valeria Golino, Vincenzo Amato, Francesco Casisa, Veronica D’Agostino, Filippo Pucillo, Emma Loffredo

Rating: out of 5

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 being.

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 to escape.

Nancy Semin


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