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With: Valeria Golino, Francesco Casisa, Vincenzo Amato, Veronica D'Agostino, Filippo Pucillo, Muzzi Loffredo, Elio Germano, Avy Marciano
Written by: Emanuele Crialese
Directed by: Emanuele Crialese
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for nudity and thematic elements
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 95
Date: 05/18/2002

Respiro (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Passion Fishing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Technically Respiro is another disease-of-the-week movie, but to its credit, it doesn't seem bothered by this. The disease is not used as a metaphor or as the movie's centerpiece, or as an excuse for a showcase performance. Instead, the movie weaves it into its everyday rhythms.

Written and directed by Emanuele Crialese, Respiro takes place in an Italian fishing village not far from Sicily, where a family of five resides. The mother, Grazia (beautiful Valeria Golino, best known as Charlie Sheen's girlfriend in the Hot Shots! movies), suffers from a kind of manic depression. Her high moods include naked swims and freeing a kennel full of dangerous dogs, and her lows induce her to hide under the covers, smash dishes or run away from home.

Her husband Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) works as a fisherman and believes himself to be in control of her, but in reality he's at her mercy. Their two boys -- the older Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) and the younger Filippo (Filippo Pucillo) -- adore their mother but both get into trouble as members of roving, dueling junior gangs. In addition, Filippo goes ballistic when his older, quickly developing sister Marinella (Veronica D'Agostino) begins to date a local rookie cop.

Respiro consists more as a loose series of episodes rather than as a constant plot thread, much like life in the village must be like. Some days the boys help their father on the boat and other days they take a ride on the family Vespa with their mother.

The film's largest and most important episode comes near the end when relatives conspire to send Grazia to Milan to see a doctor about her condition. She freaks out and runs away, while adoring son Pasquale helps to hide her in a secret cave, making everyone else think she's dead. The news causes everyone to break their daily routines and rhythms so that they can hold vigil on the beach.

Crialese does such a marvelous job of establishing daily life in the film's first hour that the final section feels earned rather than forced. He fails somewhat in that he's not concerned with the daily work of the fishermen -- they're often shown just sitting around with nothing to do -- but then Luchino Visconti's renowned 1948 classic La Terra Trema already documented the drudgery of this kind of work.

Instead Crialese concerns himself with a kind of sunny, sleepy existence where everything and everyone is baked and browned and healthy. It only follows that time is plentiful here and that workers should not have to constantly toil. His point is that any routine, ranging from hectic to lazy, can be interrupted. And that, as a result, hearts can be broken.

Best Buy Co, Inc.