Reviewed by: Lindis Kipp

"Unfortunately, the strong performances and engaging visuals come together to form a film that ultimately seems to lack direction."

What does it take to get over the biggest mistake of your life? This is the question that renowned Austrian actor Karl Makovics wants to answer in his directorial debut. Breathing follows 19-year-old Roman, who seeks relief from his bleak life in the youth detention centre through day-release jobs. Unfortunately, his track record is far from good and a job with the Vienna city morgue seems his last chance.

Confronted with overbearing colleagues and the bizarre nature of the job, quiet, withdrawn Roman slowly finds his way back into the real world. After encountering a female corpse who shares his last name, he sets out to find his mother who abandoned him to state welfare when he was an infant. Finding her seems to be the last puzzle piece that will allow Roman to understand who he is and move past his guilt.

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Breathing is beautifully slow and utilises Vienna's urban structure to create an atmosphere of cramped possibility, especially when Markovics contrasts it with the structured bleak life inside the detention centre. Markovics has a great eye for framing and lets his visuals do the talking. As a result, the film is very quiet; it does not rely on dialogue to show Roman's inner turmoil. Thomas Schubert, a young Austrian picked from a street casting, does an amazing acting job with hardly any lines at all. He fleshes out a character that could easily have been shallow and it is not hard to see why he won Best Actor at the Sarajevo Film Festival. Another stand-out performance is delivered by Georg Friedrich, whose character shows the most unexpected development. It is a credit to Friedrich's acting ability that he manages to carry a character from thoroughly unlikeable colleague to supportive mentor without losing credibility.

Unfortunately, the strong performances and engaging visuals come together to form a film that ultimately seems to lack direction. The two story lines – Roman's work at the morgue and his search for his mother – only connect at the beginning and then the former sadly falls somewhat by the wayside in favour of the latter, which is the weaker of the two. The big revelation about why Roman has had such troubles takes a while to sink in and even then feels like a slight cop out. Nevertheless, Thomas Schubert will be one to watch out for; I feel it is largely thanks to him that Breathing was nominated as Austria's entry into the Foreign Language category at the Academy Awards. All in all, Breathing is an enjoyable film, but it tries a little too hard to be understated and loses some of its charm because of it.

Reviewed on: 20 Jan 2012
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A troubled young man on day release from prison takes a job in a morgue and is inspired to go looking for the mother who abandoned him as a baby.
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Director: Karl Markovics

Writer: Karl Markovics

Starring: Thomas Schubert, Karin Lischka, Gerhard Liebmann, Georg Friedrich, Stefan Matousch

Year: 2011

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Austria

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