Judge P.S. Colbert tried breathing once...once.
"The right corpse in the right case…at the right time and the right place."
Cinematic inertia can be a tough act to pull off.
David Lynch did it with Eraserhead. Stanley Kubrick used it to great effect for building suspense. Terrence Malick uses it to summon majestic beauty and wonder. And of course, there's La jetee, Chris Marker's short sci-fi masterpiece, made up almost entirely of still photographs. On the other end of the spectrum, Robert Altman's thoroughly inexplicable Quintet tops a list of motionless pictures that cry out for wet paint to provide a distraction.
Actor Karl Markovics (The Counterfeiters) fares somewhat better with his directorial debut, Breathing, concerning the case of nineteen-year-old Roman Kogler (Thomas Schubert) a Viennese ward of the court. Raised in an orphanage, and currently incarcerated in a juvenile detention center for killing a teenage boy during a scuffle five years prior, Roman has settled into a life of unpleasant ritual, including routine cavity searches before being locked into a boxy concrete tank with an iron door each night. His slim chance of obtaining a release after his next parole board hearing hinges heavily on his ability to secure steady employment through the facility's work-release program.
Perhaps it's not surprising that Roman seems to be making a go of working as an assistant undertaker; quiet to the the point of obstinacy, the boy personifies the concept of unresponsiveness, making it all but impossible for him to get help from a sympathetic parole officer (Gerhard Liebmann) or to help himself. He's roused from his emotional slumber one day on the job, when confronted with the corpse of a woman bearing his last name. Could she have been his mother? Turns out she's not, but his curiosity piqued, Roman does a bit of investigating and winds up coming face to face with the woman (Karin Lischka) who gave him away as an infant.
Markovics' devotion to character "truthiness"—and his ability to coax great performances from the cast—betrays the depth of his actor roots, and to his further credit, his self-penned screenplay sparkles with originality and believability. In service of Roman's depressed sense of alienation, cinematographer (Martin Gschlacht) eschews the beauty and classic structures of Vienna in favor of an eternally gloomy, choked industrial environment, largely framed in master and medium shots to prevent the audience from getting too close. Unfortunately, staying true to Roman's character tends to drag down the film's pace, and the sense of repetition, while lending a sense of authenticity, is tedious, nonetheless.
Don't get me wrong: Breathing is an admirable achievement, and a more than worthwhile watch for those who seek out fresh filmmaking with little regard for our ever-decreasing attention spans.
Kino Lorber has done a fine job with this no-frills release (extras are limited to the theatrical trailer and a "stills gallery" of photos from the film), presenting a sparkling anamorphic widescreen print and an equally stirring Dolby Digital audio mix, whether you prefer 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround. English subtitles are available.
Spoiler Alert! Roman hasn't got it all figured out by the film's end. In fact, he's still making progress, which seems much more plausible and satisfying than having him experience a warp-speed set of revellations that lead directly to a neat conclusion. I'd just like to point out that, given the speed of his discovery-making, he's not getting any younger. And neither are we.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
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