Pros: eventually becomes interesting
Cons: slow and opaque start
Eighteen- (or nineteen-) year-old Roman Kogler (Thomas Schubert), the young Austrian protagonist of Karl Markovics’s 2011 “Atmen” (Breathing) is very close-mouthed, if not quite catatonic, through much of the movie. He is incarcerated for murder in a juvenile detention facility, shunned by the other young men for reasons I didn’t catch (if they were alluded to in the movie). The others wait for him to swim his laps before playing water polo in scenes that show off Schubert’s physique in a swimming suit.
Roman is not going to be paroled without having a job, and has failed to hold a series of placements. Despite the hostility of some coworkers and a repugnance for touching corpses, he gradually assimilates to a job picking up corpses for a funeral home.
The corpse of a woman in her late-30s named Kogler (and unclaimed by any relative) makes Roman curious about her mother, who gave him up to the first of the institutions in which he has spent almost all of his life when he was an infant. Being a movie, the viewer can be certain that he will find her (Karin Lischka plays the role quite well), though how she will react is less determine by the genre of searching for a parent.
The pace, especially during the first half hour, is a bit slow and Roman a bit affectless (for reasons that are easy to understand), but he engaged my interest more than Jojo did. Roman has a social worker (played by Gerhard Liebmann) determinedly on his side.
The tourist Vienna that I know is invisible in both movies, except for the skyline visible from a cemetery in the last scene of “Breathing,” and the light used by DP is quite cold (not at all gemütlich) and there are no pastry confections on view in either film. And most of the scenes are filmed from some distance (mid-shots rather than long-shots or closeups, for the most part). “Breathing” is not just devoid of violence (apart from what is recalled at the parole hearing in which a video of the numb boy at the time of his arrest is played) but very restrained as Roman submits to indignities about which he can do nothing. If he fantasizes about sex and popular acclaim, this is not visible in the film. (And there is no freeze-frame at the end, as in “400 Blows.”)
Bonus features on the Koch Lorber DVD of “Breathing” are limited to a theatrical trailer and a “stills gallery” (typically barebones for KL).