This film takes an uncomfortable look at family values gone awry by mental
illness. Sunsplashed Lampedusa, an Italian island near Sicily that depends
on fishing for its livelihood, is the setting for this creation of the life of
a family and a village. And, while it contains the warmth and humor that
is so natural to Italian filmmakers, its basis on a Lampedusan legend gets
it into storytelling trouble.
Grazia (Valeria Golino) is an affectionate mother and wife, one who will
chide a son's wildness or complain at her husband's restrictions but she'll
quickly, forgive and forget. Her world is her family and her island, and
she's fulfilled within that sphere. But something is not quite right with
At first, her free-spirited actions are endearing and interesting -- to us and
to the townsfolk. But she pushes the limits of acceptability when, on a trip
with her children to the beach, she suddenly takes her top off and swims in
the ocean. When husband Pietro's fishing boat happens to glide by (straining
the limits of coincidence), and he sees this too-free-spirited display, he's
frantic with rage at the unseemliness of her behavior. This transgression is
only prelude to what will follow.
When she's accused of making trouble by a fellow worker in the fish packing
plant, she flies off the handle and runs out. But the final touch comes
when she releases scores of captive dogs from confinement into the community
-- an outrage that is too much for the town to endure.
The village leaders meet and urge Pietro to send his wife off to Milan for
therapy. Only after much pressure and his own realization that it might be
the only way to help her, he agrees. But Grazia ain't leaving her town and
her 13-year old son Pasquale takes her side and provides a hiding place in an
obscure cave along the coast as Pietro takes up a desperate search for her
with the help of the people of the town.
Now, here we have a problem for writer-director Emanuele Crialese ("Once We
Were Strangers"). How do you resolve the story with the dilemma of what
will happen to Grazia if she's found versus not being found? How will
either development affect her family? How could she not be found?
Any way you go, however, leads to another chapter and a story length that
Crialese apparently felt couldn't be sustained by the strength of the
material. So, he chose to terminate the story abruptly and by resorting to
an incomprehensible surrealism that casts no light on Grazia's destiny,
leaves us bewildered, grasping for meaning, and ungratified.
The cat-eyed Golino, who can be gorgeously sensual when the part calls for
it ("Frida"), plays the mom with great
naturalism, lavishing love and adoration upon her children and her husband,
affording her Grazia considerable sympathy in view of her bipolar tendencies.
A very handsome Vincenzo Amato plays husband Pietro with fine sensitivity
under the community required machoism.
An outstanding find in his age group is Francesco Casisa as elder son
Pasquale whose burgeoning physicality and maturity, thrown into a protective
role as he's forced to deal with oddities of his mother's behavior, is a
major contribution to those elements of the film that are outstanding.
~~ Jules Brenner