Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

On the island, the concept of loneliness is unimaginable. It's not that everyone knows everyone else's business, which they do, but the rhythm of life is so inclusive that a free spirit becomes a threat, expressing individuality and independence.

Lampedusa lies south-west of Sicily. It is small, sun-bleached and hot. Surrounded by a great green gift of water, it remains unaffected by the blight of multinational consumerism. Gangs of children run wild, ragging and fighting and racing across white rocks on battered Lambrettas. The men go out in boats to catch fish. The women clean them and pack them. Everyone is involved in this ancient industry. It is all they have, as well as each other and the grave beauty of a barren landscape.

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Grazia (Valeria Golino) is unpredictable. She has three children and yet behaves like one of them. "Either she's too happy or too sad," they say. Despite symptoms of manic depression, she is life-enhancing, instinctive, fun and innocent. Like a changeling, she appears different. Pietro (Vincenzo Amato), her husband, finds the mood changes demanding and difficult. Her children adore her, especially 13-year-old Pasquale (Francesco Casisa), who remains protective and physically close.

Emanuele Crialese was born in Rome 38 years ago. This is his second film and first outside New York, where he trained as a filmmaker. The influence of Vittorio De Sica and the Neo-Realists is noticeable in his use of non-professional actors and the way in which the character of Lamedusa is expressed through observation, rather than sentiment.

You feel the heat of the rocks, the sensuality of cotton, the valiant isolation and the disregard of rules. When a policeman stops Grazia for driving a scooter with two passengers, her response is, "You are new here, aren't you?" The next you know, Grazia's teenage daughter is walking out with the policeman and Grazia is driving around with three children on the scooter.

Her rebellious nature is a refusal to conform, as if afraid of being trapped by the expectation of others. "There is a doctor in Milan who can help you," she is told. "Help me with what?" she asks. The inference of mental instability offends her deeply. She is true to herself, which gives her advantage over those with narrower vision.

Golino is so natural, her portrayal of Grazia seems less of a performance than a cry from the wilderness. There could be no better judgement of an actor than to believe in absolute truth and no finer critique of a film than to feel it through the skin.

Reviewed on: 08 Aug 2003
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Life on a rocky, sun bleached Mediterranean island is disrupted by an unconventional mother.
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Director: Emanuele Crialese

Writer: Emanuele Crialese

Starring: Valeria Golino, Vincenzo Amato, Francesco Casisa, Veronica D'Agostino, Filippo Pucillo, Emma Loffredo, Elio Germano, Avy Marciario

Year: 2002

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Italy


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