January 14, 2004 -- “Respiro” is the story of beautiful, but manic-depressive woman, Grazia (played by Valeria Golino), who goes into self-imposed exile on a small island near Sicily. She chooses to live in a cave rather than being sent away to the mainland for psychiatric treatment.
Grazia's sins include releasing dogs from the local pound, swimming naked in the ocean and getting into a fight with another woman. While her husband, Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) and son, Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) are very understanding, other relatives decide she must be sent away because of her disruptive behavior.
In its own way, this is an “American Beauty” kind of story about people in an intolerant society dealing harshly with people who don't fit into a fairly narrow mold of acceptable behavior. It is sort of the opposite of “Northern Exposure” where everyone is quirky, and loving it. Here, quirkiness is opposed strongly. The underlying theme seems to be one of painting some of these islanders as ignorant, superstitious, intolerant rubes. Grazia, a representative of the artistic elite, is portrayed as the only free person on the island. She is free of the restraints that most island women impose on themselves.
It is also a kind of coming-of-age film with considerable screen time being given to teenaged characters Pasquale and his sister Marinella (Veronica D'Agostino) and their attempts at romance. Pasquale's younger brother, Filippo, (Filippo Pucillo) also has a key scene in the movie which highlights the subjugation of women on the island. He steps in to break up a date between his older sister and a policeman. He does this as if he has the authority over his sister that a father, or older brother might have in other societies. The intolerance of Grazia is just part of that subjugation. The scene in which the islanders shoot the stray dogs that Grazia has released hints at even darker forces that may be employed on the island to ensure conformity. The dogs are shot by rifle-wielding villagers on rooftops. They are shot because the dogs, which appear to be healthy, are supposedly sick. It is no coincidence that Grazia, too, has been deemed to be mentally sick by the villagers.
The story is yet another variation in the oft-repeated theme about freedom versus pressure to conform in society. The pressure to conform to the law, to commonly accepted moral principles and other societal expectations have long been vigorously opposed by many of those in the artistic community, including filmmakers. This is yet another volley in that age-old war. It is another movie, like “King of Hearts,” that argues that insane people are the only people who are really sane. The problem with the film is that it meanders a little too slowly before getting to the point, and the dramatic tension of the film is feeble. The film is beautifully photographed by Fabio Zamarion and the numerous ocean shots feature that razor sharp Mediterranean light. It rates a C+.
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