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Dan Heller's Movie Review of "Respiro"


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Valeria Golino, Francesco Casisa
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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.

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.

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Valeria Golino
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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.

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Vincenzo Amato, Valeria Golino, Francesco Casisa
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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.

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Vincenzo Amato, Valeria Golino
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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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