Posted September 1, 2012 by Dan Clay in B


Breathing is the debut feature from Austrian Karl Markovics.

Breathing is the debut feature from Austrian Karl Markovics.
Markovics is best known as an actor who has mainly appeared in German and
Austrian TV series and a few movies. He may be best know to foreign audiences
for his roles in Unknown and the academy award winning The
. Breathing, or Atmen upon translation, is his first venture
behind the camera and what a revelation it is.

The film follows Roman Kogler, a young
offender who currently finds himself in a juvenile prison. Unlike other
tearaways of his age Roman possess slightly different qualities. Shy and quiet,
Roman is the perennial loner. Not interested in football or girls like the
other boys at the institute, Roman’s interests seem more preoccupied with
trains and swimming. His actions and mannerisms towards other prisoners and guards
would indicate that something troubling has happened to him in the past. In an
attempt to broaden their horizons and reintroduced them to society the prison
allows its inmates to go on works experience. Roman ends up taking a job at a
city morgue. Initially he is disturbed and un-enthusiastic when confronted with
corpses. This makes him hard to work with and causes his colleagues to react
negatively towards him. Within his first week, Roman is confronted with a dead
woman who bares the same surname. Never really knowing his mother, Roman begins
to investigate what ever became of her and thus unlocks some truth about his

Breathing raises several topics and
interesting talking points. Firstly is the juvenile court systems and begs the
question just what is being done to help these youngsters and how will they
fair in the future? Although, being blatantly troubled, Roman earns the respect
of a lot of his elders as they see the potential that exists within him. Another
interesting point that is quite clearly presented, is Markovic’s comments on
morgues and the handling of the deceased. Several scenes take place where
bodies are suggested as being nothing more than slabs of fresh meat that can be
carted around like cargo. From man handling bodies to staking them up in
shipping containers, Breathing is damning of the entire process. There are a
few instances where the morgue workers show a level of humanity but overall
this profession isn’t shown in a positive light, which is something that we
have seen recently here in the UK. Finally, much like last years We Need to
Talk About Kevin,
Breathing is suggesting a very brave change in the way we
view parenthood in movies. Markovic’s isn’t scared to show the mother in bad
way and by doing so actually achieves quite a high level of profoundness.

Lastly, there are two stars of the show
here. Considering he is an untrained actor Thomas Schubert gives a phenomenal
performance as Roman. In his reserved and contemplative state, combined with
his displays of physical angst and desperation he shows a level of acting that
any performer would be proud of. Schubert is given little to say but is in
virtually every scene. It’s a big
demand of a young actor but he pulls it off with distinction. The second star
performance is from Markovics. For a debutant he has pulled off a truly great
piece of directing. A slow but methodic pacing allows the film to really grow
into itself and lets its themes and messages speak for themselves. Some beautifully
framed shots and a repetitious shot of long narrow spaces (corridors, roads,
swimming pools, tunnels) gives the viewer a visual representation of the
journey that Roman is going on. One of the bravest things that Markovics does
is actually try to exhibit the film’s name in various guises. Although it
eventually becomes a plot point, this stark use of the name is an obvious ploy
that is handled very well. This lack of fear shown by the director in his first
film should see Markovics go on to become one of the best modern directors
working in Europe today.

Dan Clay