Monday, 23 July 2018

Breath: NZIFF Review

Breath: NZIFF Review


A typical coming-of-age tale told in a slightly atypical fashion, former The Mentalist actor Simon Baker steps behind (and in front of) the camera for this adaptation of Tim Winton's book.

Centring on two kids, Pikelet and Loonie (Samson Coulter, sensitive and thoughtful and Ben Spence, instinctive and amusing) growing up in Western Australia in the 70s, Baker's Sando serves as mentor to the duo, helping them take in the waves.

But Sando keeps pushing them to go further, despite the condemnation of his other half Eva (Elizabeth Debicki, in waif and distant form) - however, Pikelet's reticence tests the boundaries of friendship with Loonie and his mentorship with Sando, as well as his own family unit.

Breath is an intriguing piece, simultaneously feeling distant in some of its narrative parts and yet frighteningly cohesive in others, and after reflection.

Perhaps consisting of one too many slow mo surfing or at water shots, Breath can be forgiven its indulgence in the waves of the ocean, thanks to some truly impressive water shots by cinematographer Rick Rifici. Pulsing waves are shot from below the surface, each one bubbling by and each showing the tumult in the relationships; the symbolism is not lost.

Elsewhere, some narrative threads feel a little unexplored; a potential school girlfriend for Pikelet is more dalliance and distraction and family tensions are hinted at rather than endorsed further.
Breath: NZIFF Review

But it's herein that lies the rub for Breath. On reflection after the lights have gone up, these relationships are explored in the way a teenager may approach them - distance helps evaluate what's transpired and why it's that way. Certainly, the relationship between Eva and Sando appears an odd one, a couple of lost souls who've found each other and are ebbing in and out like the flow of the ocean - there's much in Winton's prose that hints and there's much in Baker's restrained direction that offers deeper connections when probed.

In the relationship between the sensitive Pikelet and the gregarious Loonie, Coulter and Spence gel well, each pushing and pulling the tensions where necessary; feeling naturalistic in many ways, and evocative in others, this is a relationship that needs no deeper dissection; it breathes on its own and works well because of it.

"I've never seen men do something so beautiful, so pointless and so elegant" intones Pikelet in his later years - but in many ways, he could be hinting at the relationships that come from growing up; in caressing the tensions, and the triumphs of youth and friendships, Breath inhales deeply on its intensity and strips away its own profundity in places.

Breath is at once a complex beast at times, and yet one that feels familiar and simple, elegiacally executed - in many ways, it's one NZIFF film that demands further introspection and re-examination.

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