Lampedusa is an island paradise. Although firmly in the present, its inhabitants live simply, with all life on the island centered on fishing. Men spend the day fishing on rickety boats, throwing small fish to children who use them to buy toys. Women work in the factories, scaling fish. Teenage boys fight in gangs but nobody ever seems to be seriously hurt. The warm, Mediterranean sun warms everything and tans everybody a dark bronze. Even with the fishing, there still seems to be an inordinate amount of free time in this idyllic island getaway. It's enough to make anybody forget about their problems, and apparently beautiful enough to make Emanuele Crialese (Once We Were Strangers, Heartless) forget to add much substance to his screenplay. Respiro is a gorgeous movie, but is so light on plot that at times it feels more like a travelogue than anything else.

What Crialese wants to say is that although the island may be paradise for some, it is like prison for others, in particular Grazia (Valeria Golino, Frida, Ivanxtc). Grazia has some unexplained problem that allows her to function, but causes large emotional swings. In other words, when she is happy, she is really happy, and when she is sad, she is really sad. She loves her three children and her husband, yet throws furious temper tantrums. For the most part, her husband Pietro (Vincenzo Amato, Ciao America, Once We Were Strangers) tolerates her, and continually tries to get her to see a doctor, but never tries too hard. Her antics grow increasingly bizarre, prompting Pietro to confront her.

Grazia runs away, relying on her older son Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) to hide her. Everybody else thinks she drowned. That's really all that happens. Grazia's other children are Marinella (Veronica D'Agostino), a busty teenager discovering how to use her, uh, assets, and Filippo (Filippo Pucillo), the youngest and somewhat of a brat. Respiro would be just as enjoyable if there was no sound. This is not meant to be an insult, it is just that the film looks so gorgeous. It looks like some dream vacation villa, secluded from most people and full of charming locals (and apparently one loony local). Crialese should have developed Grazia's story a little more, either by explaining more of what is going on with her, or focusing a little more on Pietro. However, this strategy could backfire by making Respiro a little too melodramatic. As it stands, this film is so light it feels like it might float away.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 30 minutes, Italian with English subtitles, Rated PG-13 for nudity and thematic elements.

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