On the Italian island of Lampedusa, Grazia (Valeria Golino) has her role cut out for her, as the mother of three children and the wife of a fisherman. But somehow she has never quite fit in: always "too happy or too sad," confounding the expectations of her neighbors and often disrupting the smooth routine of their community. Her husband wants her to settle down, to get help; she just wants to follow her heart.
Respiro is a "slice of life" movie; as such, it is made up of a variety of pieces that add up not to a plot, but to a picture of life on the island. While Grazia is more or less the central character in the film, she's not its focus; in fact, we see a lot of the film from the perspective of her older son, Pasquale. Respiro does succeed quite well at depicting the lives of its characters and the nature of their home. The lives of the island inhabitants revolve around the sea: the men take the boats out to fish, the older boys help with unloading the catch, the women and older girls work in the packing plant, and the young boys beg for a few free fish to use as spending money.
It's a very self-contained world, and indeed we get a sense of the isolation of the island, in that Grazia fantasizes about Paris, but dreads the prospect of leaving home to go to Milan. A pair of French tourists on their sailboat might as well be from another world. It's also a world with a very rigid patriarchal social system, in which men's and women's work and socializing are divided, and even the young boys feel justified in bossing around women. But it's also very clear how much family means to the characters: Grazia's struggle to "be herself" is made more complicated by the fact that while her husband and children may not understand her, they do love her very much and want the best for her... even if she doesn't agree about what "the best" is.
Respiro is a slow-paced film, alternately following Grazia and other members of her family in their day-to-day lives. Some of the threads in Respiro can't really be said to go anywhere in terms of plot; instead, the film tries to capture the feeling of life on the island, with its small, tightly-knit community surrounded by stark natural beauty. The film's ambiguous conclusion reinforces the idea that film is a slice of life, not a narrative, and in fact Respiro certainly does evoke a distinct sense of place and culture, aided by the haunting music and sometimes almost surreal cinematography.
The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer of Respiro is in fact anamorphic, though the case doesn't say so. Overall we get very good image quality: the print is clean and colors look great. Some edge enhancement appears, but it's not too noticeable. In scenes with a mix of very bright and very dark elements, the contrast suffers a bit, but the majority of the scenes are well-lit and have an excellent level of detail.
The English subtitles are optional.
The Italian Dolby 5.1 track offers a solid listening experience throughout the film. The dialogue is clear, the soundtrack is clean, and the surround channels are used enough to create a reasonable sense of immersion in the film.
The only real special feature is a selection of trailers for other Sony Pictures Classics releases.
Respiro is another solid film from Sony Pictures Classics, offering an interesting slice of life from a tiny Mediterranean fishing community. The performances from both adults and child actors are well done, and the film as a whole has a polished and generally engaging style; it's recommended.