DVD Review: Breathing

STUDIO: Kino Lorber | DIRECTOR: Karl Markovics | CAST: Thomas Schubert, Georg Friedrich, Gerhard Liebmann, Karin Lischka, Stefan Matousch
DVD RELEASE DATE: 1/22/2013 | PRICE: DVD $29.95
SPECS: NR | 93 min. | Foreign language drama | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | German with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall


Austrian actor Karl Markovics (superb as the cellar-dwelling forger in 2007’s The Counterfeiters) marks his directorial debut with the 2011 drama Breathing, a deliberately paced, stylishly photographed character study of a young man in juvenile detention.

Breathing movie scene

Thomas Schubert submerges in Breathing

At 18, Roman Kogler (newcomer Thomas Schubert) has been under state care most of his life after being abandoned by his family. Incarcerated since 14, he is now eligible for parole. But his inability to hold a job and his hostility toward even his own lawyer (Georg Friedrich) make this unlikely. After going through the want ads with his feet (!), Roman applies for a job at the Vienna morgue, where he is confronted with a corpse bearing his last name. This prompts him to explore his past and come to terms with his crime.

Markovics employs an objectivist cinematic style (reminiscent of Austria’s premiere filmmaer, The White Ribbon director Michael Haneke) as befits Roman’s depersonalized existence. Actions are viewed from a distance and the narrative moves forward by an accumulation of details: a single cup coffeemaker, a subway poster. Even the outcome of the climactic parole hearing is revealed from down a hallway and the emotional impact is greater for it.

Markovics’ experience as an actor helps him elicit subtle, rounded performances from his cast. Georg Friedrich is excellent as a lawyer juggling frustrations with his hostile client and domestic squabbles of his own, while Karin Lischka is terrifying in a ferocious coldsore-and-all portrayal of the mother who abandoned Roman. But the film rests on Schubert and he comes through with a poised, potentially starmaking turn. Whether withdrawing under a hood or going into panic attacks, he finds multiple layers of repressed anguish and coiled rage. And in one of the most moving moments, he encounters a teenage girl on the train and suddenly acts like…a teenage boy.

An offbeat and reward gem, Breathing demonstrates that a job at the morgue can be a life-affirming experience.

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About David

David Leopold is an actor, writer and videographer who would take a Sherpa ride up a Tibetan mountain to see an Edwige Feuillère movie.