Directed by Emanuele Crialese, starring Valeria Golino, Vincenzo Amato, Francesco Casisa, Veronica D'Agostino, Filippo Pucillo and Elio Germano.

Best known for her role as Tom Cruise's girlfriend in 'Rain Man', Valeria Golino's career has seen her work with the likes of Mike Figgis, Julie Taymor and Sean Penn and also appear in dross of the 'Hot Shots' and 'Escape from LA' variety. 'Respiro' however, is one to remember and the Cannes favourite gives Golino the chance to shine in a lead role.

Set on the island of Lampedusa, southwest of Sicily, she plays Grazia, a volatile wife and mother at odds with the conservatism surrounding her. While her three children - and in particular eldest boy Pasquale (Casisa) - accommodate her mood swings, husband Pietro (Amato) is shackled to tradition and worries about what the other villagers think. As the summer heat turns up and Grazia becomes more unpredictable, the pressure mounts on Pietro to send her to a psychiatric institution in Milan. But Pasquale doesn't agree with what the elders have in mind and devises a plan to keep his mother hidden on the island.

Based on an island legend about a young mother who commits suicide only to be brought back to life by the sea, 'Respiro' moves slowly yet its study of a family in turmoil is always engrossing. Here, Crialese captures both the monotony and magic of daily life with the islanders' sense of community one of their greatest strengths and also a flaw when it comes to dealing with Grazia.

Pasquale initially seems little more than a waster whose interests extend to hunting, swimming and beating up other children. But as the film progresses, so too does the realisation that behind the teen gang member is a sensitive boy who feels his mother's suffocation and only wants her to be happy. That Grazia's relationship with her son seems far more charged than the one with her husband is perhaps the one area of the script that feels uneven and in need of more work.

Grazia relates far better to children than adults and Golina's performance harnesses both an innocence and sensuality that leaves you wondering if she really is ill or just a rebel with nowhere to go. Her spirit is superbly offset by Amato as the taciturn Pietro - a fisherman whose temper always seems to be on the boil but whose deep love for his wife is revealed as the film moves towards its unorthodox conclusion.

Beautifully shot and delicately acted, Respiro will have you contemplating a trip to Lampedusa - and wishing Golino would get the parts she deserves.

Harry Guerin