There are a variety of subtle images throughout the film that imply deeper meanings than those overtly discussed by the characters. Subtle signs and facial expressions portray inner emotions, a form of poetry (symbolism) which is common in writing, and mastered by this film. One particular use of this device is when Grazia takes her husband's fishing net and wraps herself in it. This perfectly displays for the audience the trapped feeling that Grazia feels simply by following the rules of the island. What I found interesting in this scene is that the director had Grazia try and move in the net. While this particular scene can be amusing (a woman in a fishing net does strike a humorous chord), this image is actually one of the main themes in the film. Grazia, though feeling trapped in her everyday life, tries to fight against the rules (she tries to walk while wearing the net).
This feeling of fighting against the rules leads into another common theme in the film, water. Water serves many purposes in this film, and not simply providing a beautiful backdrop for our characters. Pietro's job (fisherman), a favorite pastime of Grazia and her sons (swimming), and the location of the film (on an island) are all dependent on water. Water, as it does in many films, serves as a motif for rebirth or renewal. Grazia is a character who thrives in the water: we often see her swimming or walking on the beach. There is a scene near the beginning of the film in which Grazia removes her dress and simply floats in the water. Perhaps this is an example of how she lives her life: free (as she floats, without control, in the current). Water is used as renewal most evidently in the final scene in which Pietro finds Grazia in the water. The image of the Lampedusians surrounding Grazia in the water is a very strong image, and one that allows for a deep discussion of the possible meaning behind this. This image acts as a symbol of forgiveness, showing that Grazia's "death" has allowed the townspeople to gain a new understanding for her and the way she lives her life. Previous to her supposed death, she was urged by her husband, as well as many others, to reside in an institution in Milan. Then, after a mere few days in the "afterlife", the people seem to have forgotten the uninhibited nature of Grazia, and instead welcome her back into the community as one of their own. This is where the water motif becomes strong. The underwater shot of the Lampedusians and Grazia swimming reminds me of a spiritual image. There is a soft glow to the water, which adds to the "heavenly" atmosphere. Perhaps this image is used to portray support or rebirth, but it is definitely an image that displays renewal: it is something that allows the audience to believe that Grazia will integrate herself back into a community that will accept her.
Overall I found this film to be a stunning example of what happens when striking cinematography is mixed with a beautiful story: the end product is a film that one wants to watch over and over. The atmosphere in the film is tranquil, even though the main character is not. A film like this, which has countless motifs and images, can be discussed on many different levels: narrative, cinematographic, poetic, psychological, and spiritual.
- More discussion at imdb.com.
- A review for Respiro.
- A variety of reviews at RottonTomatoes.com.
- Movie Trailer for Respiro.