Because the community must work as a team to live, each person’s life is interwoven with the others.
An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis
“Respiro” seeps gently through our skin and into our bones. By the end of things, we are in another culture so completely that stepping out the theater door into our own is a jarring shock. We have been on an island off Sicily in the Mediterranean, scrambling over sharp volcanic rock, feeling the misery of a woman who doesn’t fit. We have lived in the isolation of a town virtually untouched by outside influences.
This kind of isolation, conferred now only by the geography of a place, leaves people caught in the generational mores that have been handed down to them. Because the community must work as a team to live, each person’s life is interwoven with the others. The men fish, the women skin the fish, the young boys pitch in part time with their fathers – but mostly they play. The heart of the movie is the culture of their play.
There is a roughness to it, akin to the roughness of the volcanic cliffs. When the older boys set on the younger ones, as they often do, and force them to strip, a meanness and humiliation interrupts the mood. But even left to themselves, the younger ones are prone to tough roughhousing. They make up quickly though; they explode and make up and don’t bear grudges for long.
The landscape of their play is majestic and empty – white rock plunging to bright blue sea under a sky of nearly the same color. The sun bakes relentlessly, the small motor scooters look lie flies against the spread of bare rock. Very little grows up through the cracks of this hardened ash.
In this atmosphere, there is hardly room for the eccentricities of Grazia (Valeria Golino), the lovely young mother, to pass unnoticed or unpunished. She is emotionally charged and given to seizures when life piles in on her. Husband Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) calms her with sedating shots, but as things grow worse, the observing collective decides she must be institutionalized in Milan. Grazia refuses and is led by her son Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) to refuge in a cliffside cave where he supplies her with food and blankets.
The movie leads to a remarkable ending, which you can take either as myth or reality, depending on your proclivities. The reason it is so warmly affecting is the cumulative effect of the interaction of the very fine actors with each other and with the overwhelming landscape. Ms. Golino is wonderful, partly in and partly out of the world that sets her standards; young Mr. Casisa is dear as the older son who understands his mother’s heart, and Filippo Pucillo is funny and endearing as the youngest son who has decided to run both his family and the island. Mr. Amato’s Pietro is at once the Sicilian patriarch and the husband still deeply attached emotionally and physically to his troubled wife. She has an abundance of physical space, yet barely enough to breathe.
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