The movie, "Respiro" reminds me of Woody Allen's film, "Hollywood Ending",
where a movie director makes a movie so bad, only the French would
love it. While Allen's film is fictional, the plot is similar to the
reality of Emanuele Crialese's "Respiro:" it's a pretty bad movie,
but the French still gave it the Critic's Week Prize at the 2003 Cannes
Film Festival. I bet Woody had chuckled in his hand quietly over this one.
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The basis for "Respiro" is a legend from the tiny Italian island of
Lampedusa, where a young mother who behaved outside the rules of the small
community, was thought to be insane, and thus ostracized. One day, she
disappeared, leaving only her clothes on the beach. Feeling guilty for
having driven the woman to suicide, the people prayed for her return,
which brought her back from the sea, where she returned to normal life
with her family.
The main problems with "Respiro" (the film) are two-fold: first, the
mother seemed incongruent to the intent of the legend, which intended to
portray the woman as simply out of line with social norms. In the film,
however, she is actually psychiatrically ill. This critical point changes
our perception of the townspeople's attempt to help her - rather than
seeming conformist and unjust in their attempts to help her, the people
actually seemed genuine and authentic in their concern for the woman.
This aspect discredits almost the entire point of the film. The only thing
left to keep it together are the character portrayals themselves.
But here, the director fails again, yet in a way that harkens back
to the old children's tale, The Emperor's New Clothes. That is, none
of the main characters have any depth or meaning (aside from one of the
mother's young sons), but the director tells you they do, so people
just accept that. At least, those who awarded this film the Critic's
Week Prize seemed to see something that I didn't see.
Other problems with the film make it even less interesting, and by
consequence, even more pretentious: The director intended to keep dialog
extremely brief, but failed to replace their communication with anything
else to portray character, mood, or even a sense of purpose. It seemed to
be a series of scenes that were intended to be interpreted as "artful"
in their abstraction and symbolism, but the director just assumed the
audience would accept it because he told us to. For example, none of the
scenese portrayed the beauty of the island; instead, the directory wanted
to show abstract scenes of quiet, isolated despair. Too obvious. Too forced.
A movie that is similar in intent is "Il Postino", also an Italian film
that takes place on a small island with local character, color and issues
of social norms and associated departures. Here, the plot revolves around
a romantic postman who writes love poems to a woman to win her love.
Plot line aside, "Postino" had all of the features that "Respiro" attempted,
but it had warm and interesting characters, a meaningful and motivated
story line, and it didn't mind portraying a cute Italian island for the
beautifully romantic place that it is.
In the end, "Respiro" didn't move me at all, but if it's going to win
film awards at Cannes, I'll give the credit more to Woody Allen, who
seems to have an insight into those who think they know what a good
artsy film is all about.
You can find this movie on the internet database here: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0286516
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