Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Crialese on Respiro and Nuovomondo

In the films Respiro (2002) and Nuovomondo (2006), creations of director Emanuele Crialese, viewers experience the lives of individuals from little known parts of Italy and go on an epic journey with others. Respiro takes us to modern day Lampedusa while in Nuovomondo we go back in time to rural, turn of the 19th century Sicily. These films share a set of similarities; while watching them, they bring back strange memories of the other. Each film shares strange images throughout; a set of different, sometimes confusing, artistic shots. Crialese manages to put the viewer in a dream like state, and, if for only for a moment, travel into the world he has created.


Respiro follows a young family through their life on the tiny isle of Lampedusa. On this island the everyone seems to know each other (or may even be related). Grazia, the loving, flighty, and sometimes crazy mother of this family is played by Valeria Golino. The film follows her struggle between a free spirit and the grim realities on the island. While her story moves the film forward, we also see the relationships between Filippo and Pasquale (Filippo Pucillo and Francesco Casisa) and their father Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) who struggles in vain to keep his family whole.

Italy is a very diverse county and this is captured by the film. While watching, many native Italians may have trouble understanding the film as it is spoken in the native dialect, something similar to Sicilian. We can also see the local dislike of outsiders when Filippo crashes the date between his sister, Marinella (Veronica D’Agostino), and the local police officer who just recently came to the island. The struggles on the island move to a higher level when Grazia suddenly vanishes without a trace. Although the film is filled with struggle, is also filled with beautiful vistas; when screening Respiro one can almost breathe in the fresh sea air with a sigh of relief.


Nuovomondo is a story of a struggling family in rural and superstitious Sicily going on an odyssey in search of a new land full of promise, and even a giant chicken or two! In the opening scenes we see Salvatore (Vincenzo Amato) and one his sons climb a rough, rocky mountain with stones in their mouths as a sacrifice to god once they get to the top. Praying for divine inspiration, they are shown photos of this “new world” where money grows on trees and chickens are larger than men. Finding this signal to go, Salvatore packs up all his belongings (all of which he can carry on his back) and his family for their voyage to this new and mysterious land. Along the way they run into giant olives and carrots and swim through rivers of milk. While leaving Sicily they mean a strange, misplaced, woman named Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who accompanies the family for the trip.

This quality, but overly art filled film shows the audience a different side of the immigrant story. From rural Sicily, a land without electricity, running water or other conveniences in life to a ride atop a giant steal monster (their boat), this story throws our characters from one strange new world to another. Once they reach the new world our family is exposed to the once common practice of eugenics on the famed Ellis Island. Unfortunately, the film ends abruptly, with the characters only just getting a glimpse of the houses in the sky and never making it to their final destination.

Abstract Concepts

Crialese is able to produce a quality film which the audience is able to fall into as he does in each of these movies. Where he may lose some is with his love of the abstract. In each of his films there is a strange scene of swimming in a dream like world. In Respiro, this is towards the end of the film once Grazia has been found. The shot shows what seems to be most of the characters from the film swimming from below the surface of the water. This underwater trance lasts for several minutes and leaves an empty feeling once you have finished the film.

In Nuovomondo, there are several times when our characters are swimming through rivers of milk. In these scenes there are giant carrots that are used as flotation devices. At another point in the picture we see a family carrying giant olives and carrots. At the end, there is another scene of all the characters from the film swimming together in a sea of milk. While these scenes are understandable, I believe that they take away from the film. I am emerged in the lives of our characters and I am abruptly awakened by the overly fictional imagination of Crialese. When watching a movie, I prefer to not have my mind over stimulated by such nonsense.

Another aspect that I found frustrating in Nuovomondo was the fact that Vincenzo Amato went though such great lengths to learn the native tongue of a rural Sicilian town only to be understood and understand every single Italian throughout the movie Nuovomondo. In reality, he would have had trouble understanding most people on the boat. In rural Sicily, during this time period, people living 50 miles apart from each other would have trouble communicating because of the diverse dialects spoken. What was the point to learn this if the rest of the film doesn’t follow suit?

Although each of these movies contains strange scenes of swimming and other dream like sequences, you come to appreciate the magical experience of these films. Each has something to give while providing you with beautiful views of southern Italy. While the images and life style in these films may not be appealing to every western suburbanite, this is one reviewer who, after viewing these films, wants to go visit family in Sicily.

Rotten Tomatoes on Respiro:

Rotten Tomatoes on Nuovomondo:

History of Emanuele Crialese:


Cinepresa87 said...

I'm going to respectfully disagree with the statement that Crialese took his artistic license too far. In each film he appropriately kept with the theme by adding something a bit abstract for viewers to ponder. I can understand your point about how these abstract scenes can be distracting, and maybe to the average viewer watching these films on a Saturday night on the couch with some popcorn, the may not take these films further than their face value. In our case, these films were viewed in a cinema class; it required heighted attention to detail and technique. I did not find it in any way distasteful, but found it to be more about interpretation and reflection of what message the director is sending forth to his audience about his work. For each person, these conceptual scenes are meant to be interpreted. For me, the milk scenes in Nuovomondo represented lost, found, and the plenty. In Respiro, the gathering of people treading water gave me a sense of community, unity, and harmony. However we decipher his personal expression, Emanuele Crialese must be doing something right, because the combination of these two films received a total of 25 prestigious awards, and 18 nominations- all of which would not be given to “strange…nonsense” films.

Jessica said...

I'm going to agree with you about the lack of a language barrier between Italian and Sicilian in Nuovomondo. I think it is unrealistic to think that Vincenzo could have communicated without difficulty in standard Italian. I recently read a very interesting statistic that stated only 19% of Italy's population could speak standard Italian in the 1950's. Knowing this now, it seems even more improbable that a peasant farmer from rural Siciliy would have been educated enough to be versed in standard Italian. Obviouslly,it's not a documentary so I will let this fictitious element slide. I still really enjoyed the film and Crialese's strange imagery.

tots288 said...

I can understand view points of how certain scenes were very well put together and even how they were pretty distracting and strange, but I do have to say that for me, being a person who doesn't understand a poetic approach to things quite well and it even takes me time to understand certain abstract scenes.... the ones that were here were some of the more bizzare things I've seen in films that had very powerful intentions. I viewed some of the scenes as almost having the capabilities of ruining the delightful message and story that was being brought forth to us, the viewers. In a sense I can understand the meanings behind them after some thought but the initally reaction of 'What the heck is going on' was just far too great. I can respect both opinions of the abstract scenes but for me they were just a bit too much.

kelco411 said...

I completely agree with Cinepresa87's response to this blog. The abstract art that Crialese added to both of these films were obviously difficult to understand at first glance, but it gave the films so much more character. If he wanted his films to be like every other film that is easy to dissect, then he wouldn't have added these parts to them. In America, films like this would most likely be hated by the average person. But, with us being in an Italian film course, we should be able to respect and understand the reasoning behind him having these "weird" things in his films. I really liked both of these films, and I also really like Crialese's style of filmmaking. I might look into seeing some more films that he might have done in his career.

Emirjona85 said...

I agree as well with Cinepresa87. This is just a way of art showing in a movie. Crialese is trying to put that ambiguity in the film as the poet does in a piece of art. He leaves it to us to either accept it and try to go further than what eyes see, or deny it and not even think about it. The Respiro and Nuovo Mondo are movies that are not meant to be loved by everyone.

Tani said...

I disagree with cinepresa and jessica. The statistics about Italian could be true, but lets not forget that each one of the people in this big community speak a dialect. These dialect although they are quite different, they have the regular words in common, from which Italians can understand each other. Most of the communication even throughout the trip was just being polite and saluting between one another. So I do not think that the language was a major barrier in the 1950s among Italians. After they got to America it was, but not throughout that trip. Most of them were southerns and the dialects they speak aren't necessarily equal, but they do have many things in common and expressions.

Cool Italian Pics said...

Hey folks, It isn't the Wonderful World of Disney here! It is good that some of you do not fully enjoy Crialese's films, because good art will engage you, not just entertain. I think it is important to try to view some of these "in the moment," even if sometimes it isn't pleasurable. Of the two films, I enjoyed "Nuovomondo" more. Perhaps because there seemed to be so much more at stake for the characters.
However, to call something "nonsense" is pretty strong. Yes it is an "artistic" interpretation, but there is a tradition of the surreal in Italian film as well.

Mr Hooster said...

I can understand how the images went with the films. For instance, the river of milk is a symbol of the wealth to come for these immigrants. The giant olives are in reference to the pictures of giant chickens and money on trees. Salvatore was both scared (possibly from the trip to come among other things) and amazed by what America could represent. This being said, I think it could have been shown in a less dramatic way. When watching "The Blows Round" we saw an artistic license being used but it does not take away from the film. You don't wake up from your movie slumber thinking, "Where did this come from?" Crialese could have added this without making a distraction from the film. Maybe he should have developed the characters a little better as in Respiro.
I will try and make a comparison to an art gallery. These two films can be compared to walking through a classical art gallery. As you walk, you enter a section of portraits from the Baroque period. But then, as you walk, there is a Jackson Pollock in the middle of them all! You would think, "What is this doing here? It doesn't belong here!" For me, it is the same with these films. If I want to see carrots used as life preservers and swimming in rivers of milk I will watch the blue meanies in "The Yellow Submarine" and listen to "Mellow Yellow" by Donovan.
As far as the issue of language, this wasn't even taking place in the 1950's when only 19% of the people spoke standard Italian, this was turn of the century Sicily. Tani, I know people in Sicily today that have trouble understanding people from 50 miles away let alone differences from the North and South back in 1905. There were some points when they had real conversations. For instance in town before leaving Sicily, on the ship talking about Lucy, and once they are on the island. For someone that understands Italian culture, this takes away from the film for me, epically after I heard how important getting language right was for Vincenzo Amato.

Mr Hooster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.