Sunday 26 January 2020

Touching youth dramaCa caption Breathing

Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

(Club, IFI, 94 minutes)

Director: Karl Markovics Stars: Thomas Schubert, Karin Lischka, Georg Friedrich

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Some of you may remember Karl Markovics playing a resourceful Jewish criminal in the 2007 Holocaust drama The Counterfeiters. Breathing is his directorial debut, but the film is so assured it's hard to believe he hasn't made one before. Markovics also wrote the story, which explores the troubled young life of Roman (Thomas Schubert), an inmate at a juvenile offenders' prison in Vienna.

Roman is now 18, and his state mentor has begun trying to find him work. But he has serious issues with authority and has trouble settling until he's sent to work at the city mortuary service. Though initially horrified by the sight of dead bodies, Roman becomes fascinated by the rituals and little sorrows of bereavement and lonely deaths.

His mortuary co-workers are initially suspicious of him, and it emerges that Roman was incarcerated for a serious violent crime. But by increments he starts to feel he might have found a place in the world, and summons the courage to track down the mother who abandoned him as a child.

Markovics builds his story slowly and with a scrupulous lack of sentiment. We feel for Roman, a boy who's fallen through society's cracks and has no idea how to relate to the people around him.

Thomas Schubert brilliantly conveys Roman's inarticulate rage, and there are fine supporting performances, particularly from Georg Friedrich as an old hand at the morgue called Rudolf.

Rudolf goes pretty hard on Roman at first, and seems a tough, unfeeling soul until we see the loving care with which he washes and dresses a dead woman. It's an object lesson that Roman does not fail to notice, and Breathing is a compassionate coming-of-age story.

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