Ah, Italy, providing us with some of the world's finest art for hundreds of years. Where romance reigns and an entire romantic language developed, devoted to yelling at each other.
Emanuele Crialese's Respiro is a very Italian film. It's also a very good Italian film, capturing the Critics Week Prize at this year's Cannes International Film Festival.
The film marks a first for its director, being the first film Crialese created in his home country. But the Italian director is no newcomer to the film industry. At the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, he presented his first film, Once We Were Strangers, an English picture shot in New York City.
"I dreamed of being isolated for a bit of time," he remembers. "That's how I found Lampedusa, a small Italian island southwest of Sicily."
Crialese immediately fell in love with the idea of shooting a film there.
"I didn't want to emphasize the beauty of the natural landscape," he admits. "I had the desire to photograph this arid, dusty island, devastated by cement buildings illegally begun but never completed."
Fabio Zamarion and Beatrice Scarpato, the film's cinematographer and art director, respectively, capture this perfectly. The landscape is mostly without colour and the very basic, primary colours that do appear are unsaturated and faded, adding a natural bleakness to the film. This is rather appropriate, given the setting: a dusty, impoverished fishing village.
Grazia, played wonderfully by Valeria Golino, is the mother of three lippy children (Marinella, Pasquale, and Filippo), wife to a fisherman named Pietro, and a social outcast. She suffers from mental illness, and the town wants to send her to Milan to seek help against her will. Pietro attempts to stick up for her, but is eventually coerced by town's residents.
Respiro is a film about conflict and contrast. Nasty little children stealing clothes off each other's backs, regular fights between children and adults alike and domestic problems all build up the tension between the people of the village. Beautiful seascapes contrasted with the harsh realities of life in the desert homes of people struggling to survive, a nearby city rife with colour versus the grey walls of the town.
All this, in the most beautiful yelling language in the world.
Respiro opens this week at the Uptown Stage and Screen.