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The Power of Love
by
Howard Schumann

Emanuele Crialese's Respiro is alive, sensual, and transcendent. Set in Lampedusa, an island southwest of Sicily, it is a film about mothers and sons, accepting differences, and the power of love to bring renewal and reconciliation. Gorgeously filmed by cinematographer Fabio Zamarion, Respiro captivates with its bright Mediterranean sunlight and the expressive faces of the people, tanned and strikingly beautiful. It's based on a local legend about a mother whose behavior was found to be offensive by the community and whose subsequent disappearance was the catalyst that brought the people together. Crialese's film has the feeling of myth and legend, but also the overtones of the great Italian realist dramas of the 50s and 60s.

As gangs of unsupervised pre-teens carry out intermittent warfare among the desolate beaches and rocky landscapes, everyday life centers on fishing. The husbands do the fishing, wives work in the fish processing plant, and the boys help out their fathers and catch fish to use as trade for a chance to win an electric train set. Grazia (Valeria Golino) is the wife of macho but loving fisherman, Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) and mother of three: 13-year old Pasquale (Francesco Casisa), younger brother Filippo (Filippo Pucillo), and older sister Marinella (Veronica D'Agostino). Golina is radiant as the headstrong young mother and Casisa's performance as Pasquale completely captures the budding sexual awareness of a pre-teen. The film reflects the warmth of the Italian family and the closeness that Italian sons feel for their mothers, but also depicts the old-fashioned attitudes of the tight-knit community, especially the subjugation of women.

In a revealing scene, Pasquale's brother, the adorable but mouthy Filippo, follows his older sister Marinella to a private meeting place where she is seeking privacy with a shy young policeman, Pier Luigi (Elio Germano). Affronted by their seeming public display of affection, Filippo, less than half their size, confronts the two lovers and threatens to beat them up unless his sister goes home immediately. Unfortunately, everything is not right on the island. Grazia's behavior is increasingly defined by erratic mood swings. She flings dishes across the room, swims naked with her sons, and releases a herd of dogs from captivity, but it is not clear if she is ill or just rebellious and the film walks a tightrope between suggesting madness or the eccentricities of a free spirit.

It is soon apparent that the community has their own thoughts about her actions and she is seen as a threat to the social order. When Grazia's antics threaten to reach the breaking point, Pietro's family decides to send her to Milan to receive psychiatric treatment. Pasquale, however, always understanding and protective of his mother, hides her in one of the many caves along the rocky shore, bringing her food and reporting news of the search for her whereabouts. The ending can be interpreted in many different ways but its haunting beauty touched me. Is it to be taken literally, a dream of Pasquale's perhaps, or a fairy tale constructed from legend? I'm not sure but in any case, Respiro's combination of magic realism, natural beauty, and humanistic message will have you pricing the tickets for a trip to Lampedusa.

The final episode of the Matrix trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions opened last week on 18,000 screens throughout the world, a fitting tribute to the cultural phenomenon the Wachowski brothers' films have become. Combining romance, awesome visuals, intergalactic adventure, and philosophy into a highly entertaining spectacle, Revolutions makes clear the enormous achievement of the entire project and brings it to a satisfying conclusion. Far from being a soulless video game, this is a film where we identify with the characters. Indeed, a large part of the popularity of the series may have to do with people's need to find something that has meaning and purpose. We identify with Neo for his commitment and courage, with Morpheus for his strength and integrity, with Trinity for her sacrifice and love. There is even a hero-worshiping kid (Clayton Watson), and of course the bad guy Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) who resembles all the corporate clones we have to face in our daily lives.

As the film opens, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is in a coma, though he is actually trapped in all-white train station controlled by a scruffy-looking trainman (Bruce Spence), a worker in the ranks for the smooth-talking Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). The station scene is one of the most effective creations of the series, a cold and forbidding limbo between the machine world and the human. Here, Neo meets a lovely Indian girl named Sati (Tanveer Atwal), who introduces him to her parents and tells him she is going to live with the Oracle as her companion. As Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) seek advice from the Oracle (Mary Alice, replacing the late Gloria Foster) on freeing Neo, Zion is about to be attacked by an army of robotic sentinels. To free Neo, with the help of Mifune (Nathaniel Lees) they pay a visit to the Merovingian at his S&M Club Hell.

The action heats up in two different directions, one in the battle to save Zion with great assist from Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), the other an attempt by Neo and Trinity to enter the machine world to bargain with the artificial intelligence that has enslaved mankind for more than two centuries. The battle sequences are state-of-the-art set pieces that include the all-out war for Zion with squids flying in formation, a shootout in the check room at Club Hell, the Star Wars-like penetration of Neo's ship into the machine world, and the final battle with Agent Smith.

Though these sequences go on much too long, the human element is not lost, and Neo's mission calls upon every last ounce of his personal courage and determination. The ending doesn't tie up all the loose ends, but ultimately The Matrix Revolutions is about what it means to be human, to penetrate boundaries in life that had previously been off limits, and to exercise our creative power in the area of choice. The film tells us that "everything that has a beginning has an end" but hints that the end is merely a new beginning. As the ship accelerates high above the Robot City to encounter a transcendental light, we see that another world is possible -- and train service is available.

Kes (1969) is an early coming of age film by Ken Loach, an acclaimed English director who has been producing quality films on themes of social awareness for over thirty years. Based on the novel by Barry Hines, A Kestrel For A Knave, the film dramatizes the grim realities of life for 15-year old Billy Casper (David Bradley) growing up in the bleak mining town of Barnsley in Yorkshire. For Billy, life offers little hope for the future other than working in the mines. Disinterested in his studies, the victim of bullies, pushed around by his deadbeat older brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher), Billy finds a spark only when he succeeds in raising and training a kestrel (falcon) that he "finds" on a neighbor's land. Billy's latent intelligence and awareness are brought to the surface for fleeting moments, especially when his English teacher Mr. Farthing (Colin Welland) allows him to speak to the class about Kes, but he is soon overwhelmed by the crush of circumstances at home.

The film has memorable sequences, such as a soccer match during school recess where the games teacher, Mr. Sugden (Brian Glover), a frustrated professional soccer wannabe, takes over the kids' soccer game with hilarious results. Another character you won't soon forget is Mr. Gryce (Bob Bowes), Billy's school headmaster from hell who tortures the errant kids with moral lectures in his office before caning them. Billy would not win any charming child contests. He lies, he steals, he fights, he's a slacker, but he is very human and we feel for him. We want him to break out and achieve, but we know the odds are stacked against him. Kes is gritty, sad, funny, and very moving, a film that avoids maudlin sentimentality to tell a simple story with an authenticity you will long remember.


©2003 Howard Schumann
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