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Directed by Karl Markovics

Austria, 2011

Cornerhouse, 2 May 2012


As a study of remorse and rebirth Breathing rates as simply a brilliant film.

Roman (Tomas Schubert) is an inmate of a YOI and has a parole hearing coming up.  His lawyer advises him to get a job, because it’ll make a good impression on the judge.  Perversely perhaps, he plumbs for a customer service role in the city morgue, handling corpses, clearing away the dead, that kind of thing.  This out of sheer bloodymindedness, it seems, for there don’t look to be too many prospects of career advancement.

Anyway, surprises happen and the upshot is that it is the beginning of an awakening, whereby Roman faces up to his past and the evil he has done, losing all that ‘It was not my fault, Guv, honest’ blarney in the process.

The act of breathing, which is alluded to and occurs throughout the film, is a moveable metaphor with myriad meanings.  At work Roman’s boss advises him to breathe through his mouth when working in close proximity to corpses; the smell can be nauseous.  In prison, when he’s suffering from stitches after too much swimming, the advice is to breathe through the nose and deeply; and this leads inexplicably to a flood of tears.  One time he sinks to the bottom of the prison swimming pool, attempting apparently to drown himself, or at least to touch death, to recapture perhaps how he felt as a babe before his mother (for a second time) gave him breath.  Then there’s the time when he’s breathalysed at the prison, returning after sharing a beer with a girl…

There is great depth to the film and only a pair of idiots would conclude ‘Pointless, no moral’ and (the other one’s reply) ‘Still, we tried’ after seeing it.  They were sat immediately behind me, unfortunately, so I couldn’t help overhearing them.  The truth of the matter is, they didn’t try hard enough.  And just why do idiots need to talk so loudly?  Cognitive pollution, that’s what I call it.

Anyway, the bottom line is that Breathing is a very fine film.  It’s redemptive, actually.