RESPIRO has a lot of glowing, high-rating reviews, and deservedly so: it looks great, and the actors are perfect. It captures the subjective feelings of its main actor ... or rather, her tween-aged son. Not a movie to think about so much as feel. What's not to like?
For starters, Grazia is not a free spirit; she creates problems left and right, from her vaguely incestuous mothering to her inability to perceive social appropriateness. Despite this, she is socially accepted -- the movie shows the villagers as sympathetic and supportive. Even when she behaves dangerously, the village response is to have her cared for, just somewhere else.
However, this is not a movie about how villages function (healthy or otherwise) but about how the protagonist feels -- or at least, how her son thinks she feels. So the villagers are depicted rather one-dimensionally, as busy-bodies and gossips, even after she impulsively threatens the entire town's livelihood. This isn't to say there isn't plenty to complain about: the tedium, the monotony -- and yes, they are a town of gossips, just like every town.
It may be accurate to a young boy's perspective, but annoyingly, everything in the movie feels incomplete. There's the new carabinieri in town, who becomes attracted to Grazia's daughter ... and that's left dangling. Do we need more? No ... but then why do we get any? A glance and a smile, and we can imagine the rest -- sure. But we get a first date and then that subplot disappears. Yes, it's a depiction of another part of life, but why?
Then there are the dogs in the abandoned building, which serve as Chekhov's gun in this story. I get why this exists for the story's purpose, but I cannot understand why such a place would be maintained in real life -- and we clearly see that it is. Is it the Lampedusan equivalent to a dog pound? Why? And why are there so many dogs on this small island?
And what's up with the gangs of boys? First they're fighting in abandoned ruins, then they're fighting in an abandoned pool -- and when we see them next, they're all building bonfires together. Problem solved off-screen, I guess, because it didn't reflect on Pasquale's mother-son experience -- but it just feels like a loose thread.
These issues don't change the fact that it looks wonderful -- right up there with Luchino Visconti's La Terra Trema for depicting life in a poor fishing village. The colors are warm, the sunlight perpetual, the heat palpative. Both Golino and Amato are intense, engaging actors -- as incomplete as this movie may be, the fantasy conclusion has its own kind of satisfaction.