Friday, October 19, 2007

Emanuele Crialese: Respiro

With all the beauty and style of a classic painting, Emanuele Crialese's Respiro invites the audience into the stunning landscape and intriguing lives of its inhabitants. Wife and mother, Grazia (Valeria Golino), is a free-spirited woman who cannot abide by the limitations of the structured and tranquil island life. Her uninhibited tendencies are too much for the Lampedusians, particularly Pietro (Vincenzo Amato), her fisherman husband. Pietro tries, much to her frustration, to keep her under control by any means necessary. Although it is never clarified to the audience, the viewers learn that Grazia has a disease (possibly that she is manic depressive). Because of this, or perhaps because Pietro realizes that Grazia's problems are too extreme for him to treat alone, he decides to send her to an institution in Milan. This decision caused Grazia to flee her husband's watchful eye and hide in the caverns near the beach. Her son, Pasquale (Francesco Casisa), is the only family member who knows of her whereabouts. Pietro finds Grazia's dress near the water, and assumes that she has drowned. The knowledge allows Pietro, as well as the rest of the city, to gain a new understanding of Grazia, and perhaps even a new respect for her.

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.



Links:

9 comments:

Piero said...

I agree with your post about Respiro. I wanted to add just one particular to your analysis of the net-scene. When I watched that scene the first time, the first thing that came in my mind were the words: "Tu mi fai girar, tu mi fai girar, come fossi una bambola" (You make me spin, you make me spin around, as if I were a doll). These are the words of the Patty Pravo's song that Grazia is listening to when we see her the first time. She seems to be a big fan of this song, and throughout the movie, we understand that she identifies with the woman described in Patty Pravo's "Bambola".
A link to Patty Pravo's page on the English wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patty_Pravo

sficano said...

I agree, strikingly beautiful scenery and imagery... but I am not so sure of the beauty of the story! To me, I found it rather jarring that Grazia seemed so easily dismissed as "crazy." Why could no one recognize she had these moments when it seemed she was pushed to the limit? Maybe she was seen as crazy because no one else on the Island seemed to want much more out of the little island lives they had made for themselves. Maybe Grazia just wanted something more, something beyond the isolation. I won't say much more since our group presented on the film, but great job on the summary and analysis!

DMeador said...

One point to go with the beauty factor of the island is the violence. Throughout the story there are acts of violence committed by many characters. There is the killing of the dogs, the child gangs, and the father getting into a fight with the Frenchmen. The first scene shows one child gang beating up kids from another child gang. Its hard for the audience to figure out what is going on, but there is that contrast right from the get go. The beautiful back drop with the pant stealing-sling shot shooting kids. There is almost an irony in the location of the film: A beautiful place filled with pain.

CDAbrams said...

The violence depicted in this film was strikingly similar to much that I have seen in West African films. However, to me it seemed more of a nod to the tribal mentality and way of life which is often assumed on an island such as Lampedusa. This is most apparent in the scenes that depict Pasquale and his "gang" and rivals. Also, the way the story was presented, though it was somewhat more linear was also reminiscent of African cinema. For example, the film at surface is beautiful and engaging, but once you dig deeper into the symbolism, the fables, the poetry it resonates much stronger. I can only assume that this is not a coincidence, and the geographical location of the island of Lampedusa has quite the strong influence on the film overall. Great analysis, lovely photos!

judith said...

piero, I think your comment hits an important point. and also: when I saw the film, the scene with Grazia singing this song left me with an awkward feeling, also because the little son was strangely involved in this singing of the song and the other son stares at the mother from the wall - so I found that a strange combination and mixture of roles (in terms of gender, parents, kids, a male person (son) staring at a female (mother)...), but I couldn´t really figure out what the awkward feeling wanted to tell me...

DiPompei said...

I also thought a lot about gender roles in this film. From the very start we see a young gang of boys fulfilling their instinctual need to hunt. Throughout the film there are many cases wear gender roles are not fulfilled or are occupied poorly. All the children parent their mother, and seem to carry more responsibility than her. Pasquale in particular plays a fatherly role for his mother when he helps her hide and takes care of her. Fillipo also tries to be more mature and play a father figure when he tries intimidating the police officer courting his sister. I see Pietro, the real patriarch, as being more a part of the island's society than the micro-society of his family. He doesn't show empathy for Grazia like her children do.

SherrySantos said...

I also could not figure out the relationship between the characters in the beginning of the film. It seemed like Grazia was just some woman, maybe a neighbor, that he has some strange affection for. I had thought that he did not have a mother and Marinella took over that role as she was feeding Pasquale and Fillipo. I am struggling to remember when Grazia acted like a mother to her children. I supposed her reaction to Pietro's disciplining Pasquale could be interpreted as a motherly reaction, but then again it could be an empathic reaction to someone being hurt or punished.

JamieF said...

I agree with the comments on the initial confusion regarding Grazia's behaviour as a mother. I too was unsure at first of what exactly the relationship was between Grazia and Pasquale. But once that solved itself for me I rather enjoyed the eccentricity of Grazia. I loved the idea of her being a woman so full of life that the tiny island on which she lived was much too small to contain her. I thought this was a beautiful film and I very much enjoyed it.

H Jennings said...

Heather I comletely agreed with what you said. The whole thing! THe idea of a woman becoming so trapped in her community that she feels she can't breathe and is on the verge of death is what I took away from the scene with the net. Isn't that what happens to fish when they are caught in a net? They are trapped and surrounded by the other fish preventing their ability to breathe and as the fish are pulled from the water they are painfully suffocate. Grazia is already being crushed by hte other people in her community but if they take her from her enviroment she will lose her ability to breathe. I also liked the idea you presented as the water being part of the transformative process. The water as biblical refernce seems apropriate as well. Lampedusa is a fishing town and there is one among the many who is an outcast and misunderstood. Only after Grazia disappears is she found to have been worthy of the townspeople.