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In a Sicilian fishing village, Grazia (Valeria Golino) is an object of concern to her husband Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) and the rest of her family. While she is a loving wife and mother, she seems oblivious to social convention and often behaves in reckless, eccentric ways – whether swimming topless in the sea, or inviting herself on a boat trip with some strange men. Increasingly she becomes a subject of gossip, until Pietro decides she must be sent to Milan for medical treatment, against her will. But her loving eldest son, 13 year old Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) finds a way to help her escape.

Review by Jake Wilson:
Yet another reasonably slick exercise in arthouse pastoral, inviting us to fantasise about the joys of a simple life untroubled by wealth or gender politics. Frankly adopting a tourist’s point of view, director Emanuele Crialese is never happier than when he can arrange a couple of dozen extras as figures in a landscape – as in the opening sequence where a flock of half-naked kids, their tanned bodies a shade darker than the pale sands, tussle on the beach in aggressive mock combat. 

The editing has a smooth, lulling rhythm, conveying a sensuous impression of the battle rather than shaping it into drama; you could almost believe you were lying on the beach yourself, basking in the sun. 

Physically immediate yet dreamy, these vignettes of lively group activity have a freshness Crialese fails to achieve in his would-be lyrical shots of bodies drifting underwater – a cliché only the greatest directors could hope to redeem. 

The biggest problems emerge once the plot kicks in, since Valeria Golino is neither credible nor charismatic as a deranged free spirit (her big scenes are a bit like a John Cassavetes film without the acting). A related problem is that Crialese tends to gloss over the relationship between the adventures of Pasquale and his siblings (which occupy much of the running time) and the fundamentally painful adult situation. 

At times it’s hinted that the whole film could be seen as a kind of infantile fantasy, centered on Pasquale’s unusually intimate bond with his mother. But if the film explored this idea in any depth it might risk alienating its audience – casting aspersions on our natural desire for pretty pictures and sleepy, nostalgic sentiment.

Published March 4, 2004

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CAST: Valeria Golino, Vincenzo Amato, Francesco Casisa, Veronica D’agostino, Filippo Pucillo, Emma Loffredo

DIRECTOR: Emanuele Crialese, Pierre-Yves Lavouè

SCRIPT: Emanuele Crialese

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

PRESENTATION: widescreen 16:9


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: February 18, 2004

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