Directed by Karl Markovics. Starring Thomas Schubert, Karin Lischka, Gerhard Liebmann, Georg Friedrich, Stefan Matousch. 90 mins.
In cinemas April 20
STILL AND SLOW-MOVING PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG PAROLEE STRUGGLING WITH LIFE IN FRONT OF BARS
A slow-burning, still and affecting portrait of a young man struggling to find purpose in a life defined by one action, Karl Markovics’ directorial debut is often devastatingly emotive. Thomas Schubert plays Roman, a sullen inmate at a juvenile facility who is ostracized by his peers due to a combination of fear and disgust. When he’s encouraged to take a job in a morgue to impress his parole board, Roman is forced out of his deadened institutionalized mindset, and through working with the dead, is also forced to re-learn how to cope with the living.
Roman’s plight is meticulously, stunningly observed, as simple tasks and interactions take on huge significance. Though initially rejected and mocked by his older colleagues at the morgue, the nature of their work brings them to a silent respect. Painstaking and oddly beautiful sequences showing Roman and a co-worker gently bathing and dressing the body of an elderly woman while her daughter-in-law frets outside is incredibly touching, but there are also harsher depictions of their work. The dieners’ arrival on the scene of an accident is met with vicious aggression from a relative of the not-yet-declared victim, and the men retreat – only to be told by paramedics to stay close by.
There’s a certain gallows humour to the film, which feels similar in theme and tone to Yojiro Takita’s Departures, including a theme of maternal abandonment. When Roman attempts to track down his mother, uncomfortable truths are revealed, and Markovics leaves the audience to ponder whether Roman’s fate was pre-determined by her brief presence in his youth – or the lack of her presence in his adolescence. There’s a leaning towards ethical leniency towards both Roman and his mother, but it’s not by Markovics – rather he understands that his characters’ own experience and deep loneliness leaves them willing to forgive more readily.
Though featuring a few overwrought visual metaphors too many, Breathing is a stunning and wonderfully crafted portrait of a damaged character desperately trying to tread water.