Pretty but pretty pointless tale that doesn't seem to say what it's been intended to comment on.
I've little to add over and above the summary. Grazia (Valeria Golino, probably best remembered for her role in Hot Shots: Part Deux, tragically) is a young mother who suffers from frequent mood swings, switching between carefree and affectionate to moody and withdrawn at the drop of a hat. Like everyone else on the tiny island of Lampedusa she works in the fish industry, the husbands catching them and the wives gutting and tinning them. The children, including her two boys Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) and Filippo (Filippo Pucillo) and her daughter Marinella (Veronica D'Agostino) seem to spend much of their time in feral packs ala Lord Of The Flies, well the boys at least. Our introduction to Pasqaule and Filippo consists of them stripping three members of their rival gang in a ten on three fight, then driving off on their scooters and nearly blinding one of the opposing gang with a well-placed catapulted rock. This is in some way supposed to introduce them as sympathetic characters we should care about. Hmm.
Their father, Pietro and the rest of the community grow more worried about Grazia's random behavioural patterns, and advise that she should see a specialist in Milan. Presumably a specialist in behavioural psychology although as it's never defined it could well be a specialist in shrubbery for all I know. This is actually the moment the film looses any meaning it may have had, as it's the only medical authority on the island that diagnoses this affliction. There's not a tremendous amount of hints given either way about what's actually wrong, if anything with Grazia. Her behavioural patterns suggest bipolar disorder (diagnosed by none other than our very own impending doctor Rhythmwiz) yet the official website suggests that she's just a happy-go-lucky sort of ditzy woman whose happy-go-lucky ditzy antics don't fit in with the communities view of how a lady should behave. Given that this is the one single issue that the film could purport to deal with it's utterly ludicrous and plain sloppy story-telling that there's even a hint of uncertainty about this point. It becomes a completely different tale depending on what side of the ill / not ill fence it comes down on.
If she's just a 'local character' of a Phoebe-off-Friends genotype then it's a tale of one woman's struggle against a society that doesn't accept non-conformists. That seems to be how it's intended to be taken from it's own website but the evidence from the film doesn't support it. The only time that 'society' is critical of her is after she's caused a stampede of dogs through the town forcing the villagers to shoot them. (Side note: I know this doesn't make sense but that's what's in the film. They have a building full of dogs for no explicable reason, saying only that it's 'where they go to die', yet for some reason they also feed them. I can only suppose they have some sort of dog-disease or something but they don't want to put them down in case dogs suddenly become a form of currency.) The criticism is well founded, as it was an unbelievably dumb thing to do.
At no point does the nebulous 'societies' interest in Grazia seem to be for anything other than her own good. Having resisted the film's only medical diagnosis for some time Pietro now agrees to have Grazia taken to Milan to see this specialist, something Grazia doesn't agree with. She runs away in the middle of the night, prompting a full scale search. She's found by Pasquale, who helps her hide away in a remote cave. He brings her food and clothes, and channels Reginald Perrin by placing one of her dresses on a beach. The village assumes she's drowned and goes into mourning. Pietro is sad. They light some bonfires just as Grazia gets bored of living in a cave and reappears, swimming off the coast and everyone is reunited in the water. Pietro is happy. It's appropriate that the final image is of the entire village population bobbing up and down in the sea treading water as that's what the film had been doing for the last 90 minutes, staying resolutely in the same place and refusing to say anything of note about it's supposed themes.
There's not a lot to go on either way, but it does seem more likely that there is in fact something unbalanced about Grazia, so rather than a tale of societies acceptance of unconventional characters it becomes a tale of a mad woman hiding in a cave from a society that wants to help her. This is something of a problem as it hardly makes a compelling tale or any sort of moral point.
This film then says nothing about anything, but at least it looks pretty while it does so. The seascapes and coastlines of the small island are stunningly beautiful, and are the only reason you'll want to stay for the film's duration. In the same way that an outstanding performance from an actor can raise the perceived quality of a film the scenery in Respiro gives the film a far more spellbinding feeling than it's weak story deserves. It's not exactly a basis for a recommendation, as the same thing could probably be had from any number of Wish You Were Here type travel programs on telly. Still, there's no denying that the film is both lush and lovely.
Given that the only professional actor of any note is Valeria Golino, the performances are surprisingly good all round. Francesco Casisa may be playing a neddish brat, but he's a neddish brat that pretty convincingly loves his mother. The same can be said for Vincenzo Amato as Grazia's husband, and an ultimately pointless sub-story of Marinella's seduction of an officious young copper recently assigned to the island is played with great charm by Veronica D'Agostino.
These redeeming factors are just enough to save Respiro from the indignity of being added to theOneliner Basket O' Clunkers, but the fact remains that there's very little in the way of plot to enjoy here, and that which is present doesn't actually work in the way director Emanuele Crialese wants it to. Quite how it could have been shown that Grazia didn't have bipolar disorder escapes me at the minute, but then I'm not the one making a film about it. As it stands, Respiro's central and only issue remains too ambiguous for the film to work and as such can't be recommended by this reviewer.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.
Vincenzo Amato (Pietro)
Francesco Casisa (Pasquale)
Veronica D'Agostino (Marinella)
Filippo Pucillo (Filippo)
Muzzi Loffredo (Grandmother)