Sunday, March 25, 2012

ND/NF 2012: Atmen/Breathing

There are NF/ND 2012 Preview write ups I did with the esteemed Peter Gutierrez over at twitch. Click here to view.

Atmen/Breathing (2011) - Markovics
Roman (Thomas Schubert), an unresponsive 18 year old in juvenile detention center gets a job at a municipal mortuary after failing at other job prospects. He has to commute and report back to the center every evening. At the job, it's all business. No one cuts him any slack for being a newbie. He has to observe and learn fast.

Markovics' economical style is devoid of any sentimentality. He is also not in a hurry in unfolding the troubled young man's story. We slowly get to know Roman, a boy who was abandoned by his mother, grew up in an orphanage. He killed another boy by accident at age 14, then has been in the system ever since.

An encounter with a corpse of a naked woman with a same sir name as his leads Roman to track down his own mother. In a rather humorous scene, he confronts his rather young mother in IKEA of all places, shopping for a new mattress. His caseworker spots him there too, apparently shopping with his daughter on his day off. The case worker whispers to him, "I hope you know what you are doing!" Roman doesn't. He has no social skills. He just wanted to see his mother for the first time. He learns that when he was a toddler, the young irresponsible mother almost suffocated him to death with a pillow to stop him from crying.

The title- Breathing, as in being alive, as in being relieved, clues you in on why Roman chooses that mortuary job. Dead boy, being under water, suffocation... everything fits in. But under Markovics' hand, everything is understated. As an actor directing and scripting his first film, Markovics film is closer to the Dardennes than something more hard-knuckled, like Nil by Mouth by another actor-turned-director Gary Oldman, but achieves the same level of poignancy without the emotional fireworks or physical violence.

Schubert, with his natural, matter-of-fact demeanor, successfully conveys quiet, socially inept young man. There is a great scene in a commuter train with a cute American tourist. Being a quite normal looking teenager, it shows that Roman can blend in perfectly and possibly lead a normal life if he was ever given a chance. Schubert's performance goes down as one of the most memorable juvies in a recent movie history.

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