Man, how I could relate to this film.
When you grow up on a farm in the deepest wilds of the mountains, 35km from the nearest town, 20km from the nearest store, there are certain expectations for the manner in which you conduct yourself. Sadly, when you’re a comic book artist with a minor knack for writing, you don’t exactly fit into the stereotype of the usual country person.
Such is the same with poor Grazia. She’s lived on an unnamed island (although the film is subtitled Grazia’s Island) off the coast of Italy all her life. She has three children whom she adores, though they are constantly embarrassed by their mother’s distinct lack of similarity to the rest of the island folk. The towspeople think she’s mentally unwell, but her family knows different; she’s just unique. After a series of misadventures, Grazia’s son Pasquale helps her escape and run away from the constriction Grazia feels in her life. She hides out in a cave and the townsfolk become worried and search for her. Unfortunately then, when Pasquale’s plan (unknown to her) is to fake her death, this causes intense grief for her husband and the townsfolk who truly realise what she meant to the town, even if she was a little different.
I understand Grazia’s feelings well. (I’m not sure the villagers I grew up around cared less when I left town though…). To be born with a different slant on things should be praised and learned from, not reviled. Of course, this is hopelessly naïve and the world doesn’t work this way. The majority fear change and I can also understand that too. However, in the village the townsfolk (whose major source of income is fishing and a fish cannery) come to realise Grazia is the giddy little thrill that makes a grey day sunshiney (not that there are many grey days in this beautiful Mediterranean region, but you know what I mean).
Told in a gloriously sleepy method, evoking the atmosphere of this sun-bathed island of cliffs and rocks and hidden caves, Respiro (which I’m lead to believe means to breathe) grows steadily as it first sets the mood then completes the story. Breathing becomes a metaphor for the entire film as we frequently visit with characters diving for sea urchins and fish and the exquisite moments when Pietro, Grazia’s husband, accepts his wife’s death. The film also resonates with a subtle eroticism between Grazia and her husband, their teenage daughter Marinella and her new policeman boyfriend and Pasquale’s burgeoning 14-year-old libido. In these sleepy sun-drenched afternoons clothes are practically optional and the warm ocean beckons, it’s too hot to work or do much but lie about. All have been captured in that heavy-eyed and dreamy manner that threatens to send the viewer to sleep, hypnotised by the warmth evoked. It certainly puts the viewer in the setting and this adds a subtle dynamic to the film that infuses the viewer with the atmosphere.
Respiro is a wonderful film for anyone who knows what it feels like to be a lateral or parallel thinker among the lineal; for anyone who knows the blessing and the curse of being different or for anyone who just wants to try and understand what it’s like.
This is an intensely sharp image here from this 2002 film. Crystal clarity in every line and scene well deserves the ten yellow spots here, with colour perfect, even and natural. Flesh tones are great and blacks are true, with the only minor fault being in that the shadow detail is not always great. Thankfully there aren’t a lot of night shots, but the majority look fine with no visible grain. The film is delivered here in 16:9 enhanced 1.85:1 and makes good use of the aspect ratio with some stunning shots of cliffs and ocean. The colour of that sea is just too good to be true, and I’ve lived on the Great Barrier Reef. Incredible.
Two Italian mixes of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and stereo bring all the Italian language to the screen clearly and in their (sometimes amusingly) passionate manner. The sound effects work a little harder here with so many two-stroke engines powering everything from delivery trucks to Vespas. So many farting engine sounds.
The music is of an ethereal nature, with oboe and clarinet adding depth to that dreamy feeling while also adding a mildly haunting tone. Back to the dialogue, the subtitles are of note here too, being intelligent without talking-down to the audience. I think we all know what Si! means and thankfully the subtitlers understand that, not feeling the need to add Yes! to the screen. Thanks for that.
Respiro is a sweetly aching film of a woman trapped by her destiny and both cursed and blessed with her difference from the rest of her community. Told in such a sleepy backwater as this remote island, the film feels dreamlike even as it deals with some grislier ideals, if not images. Performances are fabulous, but true praise must go to Valeria Golina for her portrayal of Grazia, a frustrated heroine of modern thinking in a town mired in the past. Well worth the investigation for anyone after a sleepier film that still manages to have something poignant to say about conformity and individuality in a truly beautiful setting.