Some breathtaking landscape shots, but the film is strongest when depicting with Sicilian machismo and youth band violence, which feels authentic and can be quite shocking.
Valeria Golino's strong performance and beauty carry much of the film.
The second half slowly drifts off, losing narrative tightness and urgency in favour of a more symbolic, dreamlike mode.
Thematic indebtedness to Roberto Rossellini's "Stromboli", starring Ingrid Bergman, is apparent in the clash of personal sensitivities and societal norms.
The story revolves around Grazia (an enthralling Valeria Golino) who lives on a picturesque Italian fishing island. She's a beautiful free spirit, but is prone to rabid mood swings and highly erratic behavior. Her husband (Vicenzo Amato) is convinced she is mentally ill, and needs treatment in Milan, but her eldest son Pasquale (Francesco Casisa) is determined to protect her.
There are several other sub plots, involving Pasquale's sister and her involvement with a local cop and gangs of troublesome boys on the beach, but essentially this is a film about Grazia seen through Pasquale's eyes. Having a young boy as the protagonist is fast becoming a trait of Italian cinema ("Cinema Paradiso", "Malena"), but none the less it works well here, perfectly capturing Pasquale divided between convention and his love for his mother.
There is no denying Emanuele Crialese's talent. There are scenes of such haunting beauty throughout this film, captured with Fabio Zamarion's excellent cinematography. The sensuous beauty of Grazia and of the ocean are so alluring and captivating, they draw you into this vivid landscape. This film's ending has to be one of the most haunting scenes I've seen, brilliantly captured and teamed with John Surman's score. It will stay with you for days.
The girl I saw this with didn't like it as much as I did, and maybe that's influenced my memory. I imagine if I'd seen it with someone who loved it, I might say it was a little better and it might mean more to me, but that knowledge is lost with the details of the story and the melody of the song. And if I'd seen it with someone who gave a number of intelligent criticisms rather than a moment of silent reproach (or so I imagined it to be), I might rate it slightly lower. Isn't it odd the way our values shift with others, inevitably, because we construct and reconstruct meaning through them?