In Lampedusa, a tiny island off the coast of Sicily, they tell a story about a woman who is brought back from the dead by the prayers of the villagers who condemned her while she was alive. Respiro (Italian for “to breathe”) updates that legend, setting it in modern day.
Valeria Golino plays Grazia, a free spirit whose conduct crosses the line of acceptability in the small fishing community in which she and her family live. Her bi polar behaviour confounds her husband, who tries to control her mood swings with drugs. After one particularly nasty incident it is decided that she will be sent to a hospital in Milan for treatment.
With the help of her son she escapes being sent to the big city headshrinker, and hides in a cave by the ocean. After an exhaustive search she is presumed dead. Just as Joni Mitchell said, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and once Grazia is out of their lives the husband and citizens of the small village realize what a force of nature she was.
Director Emanuele Crialese takes his time with the story, allowing us to get a good sense of the village and the people. The slow pace of the film reflects the pace of life in Lampedusa, but like a Mediterranean Blue Velvet, the ugly side of the beautiful village is exposed. Respiro is one of those films with a slight story that succeeds because of its sense of place. It is a cliché to say that the location is a character in the film, but in this case it is true. The viewer must understand where the story is taking place in order to understand why the story is taking place. In this Respiro succeeds wonderfully well.