Sun-kissed Lampedusa is an island off the west coast of Sicily where work is balanced against time to gossip, and much of the gossip centres around Grazia (Valeria Golino), a fragile soul who’s 'too happy when she’s up and too sad when she’s down." Grazia’s unorthodox ways perturb the townspeople, but her children remain her staunchest allies, fiercely protective of their child-mother. Her fisherman husband, Pietro (Vincenzo Amato), is torn between his love for her and his shame at the gossip stirred up by her unconventionality. When her eccentric behaviour is misinterpreted as clinical, Pietro’s family decide Grazia needs psychiatric treatment in faraway Milan. Only her eldest son, Pasquale, seems to truly understand his delicate, unpredictable mother, and helps her find the freedom she so desperately seeks.

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The rhythms of island life infuse the Italian film Respiro, which was shot on Lampedusa, just west of Sicily. And at the centre of this film is Grazia, played by the lovely Valeria Golino. Grazia is the wife of fisherman Pietro, Vincenzo Amato, mother of a teenage girl, Veronica D'Agostino, and of sons Pasquale, Francesco Casisa, and Filippo, Filippo Pucillo. Grazia is a seductive, free creature, adored by her children and husband, but they're also wary of her. She's a woman of emotional extremes, she can indulge in totally irresponsible behaviour on a whim, letting dangerous dogs out of a pound, and when she swims topless it's not a fine moment for Pietro when his crew ogle her with embarrassed enjoyment. Oblivious to any criticism Grazia behaves in ways that become more and more a worry for her husband and the island community. For the first half of the film it seems that we are watching a tragedy about mental illness in one of life's beautiful creatures. The director and writer Emanuele Crialese deftly creates the rhythms and currents of island life, and gently and engagingly introduces his characters. The films then tends towards fable - possibly not terribly convincing dramatically, but nevertheless this section culminates in a truly amazing underwater sequence. Crialese handles the performances well, from the relatively inexperienced children, to his stars Golino - never better in my opinion - and Amato as Pietro who manages to balance his macho world with a sweet and sexy tenderness for his wife. I was seduced by this film.