Breath

Exclaim! - - FILM - JAMES BROTHERIDGE

Di­rected by Si­mon Baker

Au­thor Tim Win­ton is an of­fi­cially named Na­tional Liv­ing Trea­sure of Aus­tralia; start­ing in the 1990s, Win­ton’s books gained renown, earn­ing him sta­tus as a great novelist not only from, but of Aus­tralia. His works cap­ture some­thing of the na­tional char­ac­ter, though the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the coun­try and Breath is up for in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Win­ton’s coun­try­man Si­mon Baker stars in and di­rects the film, which con­cerns a young teen with mild par­ents and his wild best friend who share a con­nec­tion with wa­ter. Pikelet (Sam­son Coul­ter) says in a bit of early nar­ra­tion that he first meets Loonie (Ben Spence) in a river — in, mind you — and that’s where we first see them, drift­ing un­der­wa­ter.

Be­ing coastal Aussies in the 1970s, they aren’t far off from the ac­tive world of surfers, a male club that im­me­di­ately catches their eye, in­clud­ing their even­tual men­tor, Sando (Baker). A for­mer pro surfer, he now de­votes his life to find­ing the best times and spots to surf, no mat­ter the dan­ger. It’s with an air of mys­tery and vague mys­ti­cism that he in­ducts the boys into the club, spout­ing off lines like “Let’s just say we have an ap­point­ment with the undis­closed” and push­ing them to new ex­tremes.

The sport as an un­der­tak­ing is the per­fect dis­til­la­tion of the in­di­vid­ual against na­ture, one that’s hard-to-im­pos­si­ble to fake well in film­ing. Ev­ery­one, from Coul­ter to Spence to Baker him­self, can man­age them­selves on a wave as well as they hold their own in an emo­tional scene, a mi­nor feat of cast­ing. Surf­ing is the nexus of Pikelet and Loonie’s com­ing-of-age, but, for the for­mer, there’s also ac­tion back on land. Be­sides a girl­friend at school, whom we see al­most as much as the copy of Heart of Dark­ness he’s read­ing, there’s Eva, Sando’s part­ner, played by El­iz­a­beth De­bicki. She’s a for­mer ski jumper who’s suf­fered an ac­ci­dent that ham­pers her mo­bil­ity and cuts her off from the world on the wa­ter Sando de­votes him­self to. Left to her own de­vices, she makes ques­tion­able choices with Pikelet who, again, is a young teen. The ques­tions of Breath are cru­cial: of jug­gling risk and ad­ven­ture with cost and re­ward, in surf­ing and love and life. The mo­ments of un­spo­ken ob­ser­va­tion tell the story much bet­ter than when the points are trum­peted loudly. (Pa­cific North­west Pic­tures)

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