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  • 15
  • Drama
  • 2011

Breathing (Atmen)

Breathing (Atmen)

Synopsis

A young prisoner facing a parole hearing struggles with guilt in Karl Markovics' directorial debut

About

Austria - home of waltzing, singing nuns and Mozart - has taken a bit of a cinematic kicking recently. First there was Michael, the chilling paedophile drama from Markus Schleinzer, and now an actor beloved in Austria for his goofy side has gone all serious in his directorial debut  painting famously pretty Vienna in shades of ennui. Karl Markovics, famous for his stint in Rex: A Cop's Best Friend, has cemented his place on most critics' 'watch this space' list with this suffocating film about remorse.

The good news for Austria's tourist industry is that this really isn't about Viennese life or culture - it's about one boy's inner torment and it's a remarkably tight and focused film. Languishing in a juvenile detention centre, Roman Kogler is wracked with guilt over a crime that remains vague until the film's final act. And whatever it is, it's turned the nineteen year old into a taciturn, cloistered mess. Moping in the cream-and-pastel shades of the prison, he's allowed what would seem to be a reprieve - to leave daily to pursue work experience. But where does he choose? The coroner's office. This self-flagellation certainly makes for some disturbing, painfully morose viewing but the brooding goes way beyond teenage angst. With eyes that speak of a traumatised, broken soul it's a real credit to newbie actor Thomas Schubert that he can hold such a simple film together. He might be a tough nut to crack but spending so long watching his dazed, depressive expressions is quite a powerful construct.

That said, even in the film's latter half when a few things are explained there's not a lot of development and by the conclusion it still doesn't feel like we really penetrated Kogler's mind as deeply as we might have liked. It's not as though we needed to see his eHarmony profile, but the odd glimpse at what makes him tick might have added some spark. Recalling Claire Denis through frank and explicit depictions of death, brittle masculinity and loneliness, Breathing never quite reaches Denis' heights, although there is a bleak poetry to its visuals. Markovics might have paved the way for a career behind the camera but let's not forget Schubert; his performance is what brings a quiet film into the realm of the audible.

In a nutshell

A provocative debut that captures its subject under glass and is content to observe. It's painful and poetic but a shade too introspective for its own good.

by Terry Mulcahy

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