Breathing

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By now, films centered around a preteen or teenager battling through a rough upbringing on the margins of society constitutes their own genre; introduce a crime into the underage protagonist’s backstory, one that ensures the past will inevitably derail a happy present or bright future, and voilà! You now have a fit-to-burst subgenre. Familiarity breeds contempt, especially with tragic narratives, so conventional wisdom suggests that in order to distinguish your drama about damaged-goods youngsters, it has to be presented in some unique way. (Have the kid be a CGI-rendered robot? Shoot the film in 3-D IMAX? We’re just throwing ideas out here, people.) Thankfully, filmmaker Karl Markovics decided to just make a straightforward, deeply sympathetic story about a tainted, traumatized 19-year-old on a work-release program from jail—proving that heartfelt humanism and outright quality trump not only stylistic bells and whistles, but everything else as well.

An Austrian actor whose Easter-Island mug has graced movies such as the Oscar-nominated The Counterfeiters (2007), Markovics shows a keen attention to performers that you’d expect from a thespian-turned-director. But instead of giving his young star, Thomas Schubert, ample room to play hysterical, Markovics has his lead clamp down on his emotions; you’re constantly being drawn in closer to this young man and his inability to process pain. The lack of sentimentality doesn’t register as a pitiless gaze so much as an attempt to honor the character’s conflicted relationship with the world. His struggle becomes your struggle with nary a heartstring crudely tugged—a feat that both Schubert and Markovics pull off with surprising, amazing grace.

Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear

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