Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Respiro



aka Grazias Island : Italy (Ita/Fr) 2002 : Emanuele CRIALESE : 95 mins

An enigmatic, original, occasionally transcendent family drama set on the starkly beautiful Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, Respiro offers some powerful glimpses into a community at one remove from the rest of modern Italian society. These glimpses are sufficiently striking to compensate for the more familiar element at its core the story of how the islands no-nonsense ways are thrown into turmoil by the mental instability of one resident, fortyish beauty Grazia (Valeria Golino).

Mother of three children late-teen Marinella (Veronica dAgostino), 13-year-old Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) and hyperactive brat Filippo (Filippo Pucillo) and married to taciturn fisherman Pietro (Vincenzo Amato), Grazia works part-time as a fish-packer (all the islands adults seem to be employed in fish-related industries) but spends most of her days zooming around on her scooter or swimming semi-naked in the glorious blue-green waters that surround the island. Always noted for her mood-swings When she’s happy, she’s too happy, and when she’s sad, she’s too sad someone remarks Grazias increasingly volatile behaviour convinces her relatives she should be sent for treatment in distant, chilly Milan. But Grazia isn’t so easily ordered around, and takes drastic steps to avoid leaving her beloved island.

As played by Golino in a mannered performance, Grazia soon establishes herself as a standard-issue movie mad-woman complete with kitchen freak-out in which she suddenly starts smashing up the crockery. (The pivotal moment when she goes that crucial step too far, meanwhile, finally answers the Baha Boys immortal question Who let the dogs out?!). And her relationship with her old-fashioned fellow Lampedusans is slightly confusing she’s shunned as a crazy one minute then, when the villagers mistakenly believe her dead, she’s rapidly elevated to something approaching sainthood.

Whats much more interesting is Grazias domestic relationships, especially the children: each of them react differently to their mothers wayward behaviour, with Pasquale the most complicit in her attempts to avoid exile to Milan. The most effective scenes, in fact, are those in which Grazia isn’t present at all, such as when we see Pasquale and Filippo participate in the violent, neverending horseplay that defines life for Lampedusas youngsters, or the well-observed sequences in which Marinella coyly drifts into a relationship with a slightly older (but much less streetwise) cop from the mainland, Pier Luigi (Elio Germano).

Respiro, while occasionally a little too torpid for its own good as a drama, is nevertheless very effective as intense mood-piece, thanks in part to the restrained score by John Surman, while Fabio Zamarions camera manages to make Lampedusa exotic and alluring but never too picture-postcard pretty. His underwater shots are particularly impressive building up to a final dream-like sequence which, though perhaps a touch too enigmatic for some audiences, ends Respiro on exactly the right note. Crialese and editor Didier Ranz deserve credit for holding their nerve at this crucial point: so many film-makers these days simply don’t know when and how to say cut.

2nd September, 2003
(seen 1st September : Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

by Neil Young