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Respiro

It’s easy to see why this irresistible film, set amid azure seas on the sun-kissed Sicilian island of Lampedusa, became a firm festival favourite (it won the Critics’ Week prize at Cannes last year). An affectionate portrait of a fishing community that is seemingly frozen in time, writer-director Emanuele Crialese’s part neo-realist, part mythical tale casts the blue-eyed Valeria Golino as Grazia, a vivacious but unstable ‘free spirit’. Despite the sexual electricity between Grazia and her rugged, virile husband, and her deep love for her two sons and teenage daughter, she is given to an impulsiveness that disrupts familial harmony and sets tongues wagging in the traditional, close-knit Catholic community.
Grazia bathes topless and is spotted by local fishermen; she spontaneously tries to join some male French tourists on their boat trip; she releases stray dogs from the village’s makeshift pound. But when it is suggested that she be sent to Milan for psychiatric treatment, her eldest son helps to hide her in some cliff-top caves. The subsequent shift into traditional legend is slightly at odds with the film’s naturalistic aspirations, but does not dispel its myriad sensual pleasures.
Is Grazia but a creature of impulse? Or is she a mermaid or goddess of the sea who has assumed human form? Crialese seems to want to keep us guessing as he sketches the lazy rhythms of life on the island and the tranquillity and torpor
of an environment seemingly untouched by the passage of time. The film suggests links between landscape, climate and behaviour that are expressed with a flowing, light-handed grace, which in turn is echoed by jazz musician John Surman’s lush score.ÑNigel Floyd. (Italy-France, 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 95 mins.)

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