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By Rich Cline | May 25, 2003

This absorbing Italian drama captures the feel of the sun-drenched coastal community, even if it never quite grabs hold of us. This is one of those small fishing villages in which everyone knows everyone, and everybody is involved in everybody else’s life. There’s a routine, and certain things are accepted, such as the fact that all the town’s teen boys run wild on the outskirts, engaging in (usually) harmless turf warfare.
But one woman is upsetting the careful balance: Grazia (Valeria Golino) doesn’t sit quietly and let life go by; she jumps in and gets involved. As one villager observes, she’s too happy and too sad! Her oldest son (Francesco Casisa) is her favorite, and he tries to take care of her, while the younger brother (Filippo Pucillo) takes more after his pushy dad (Vincenzo Amato). And the sister (Veronica D’Agostino) just gets on with a little romance of her own. When Grazia finally gets fed up with being picked on, she just disappears and leaves everyone wondering.
Writer-director Emanuele Crialese captures the setting perfectly, down to tiny details that are wonderful to soak in. As in Y Tu Mama Tambien, the older teen boys are a sea of bare sun-tanned skin, bursting with energy and not sure how to express themselves. Meanwhile, the fishermen have their own routines, throwing fish to the younger boys that they can swap for goodies from a vendor lady. The men are all macho thugs, while the women engage in relentless meddling and gossip. But beyond a stereotype, this is a delicate balance that keeps the village going. The entire film is full of terrific touches–funny and warm images that work perfectly and combine to paint a fully rounded picture of this community, right to the visually stunning, slightly surreal conclusion. As a whole, the film is perhaps a bit too gentle and meandering, but it’s jammed full of superb moments.

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