“It’s funny, you never really think much about breathing. Until it’s all you ever think about.” These are Tim Winton’s words from his 2008 novel, Breath.
An involuntary movement. The air taken into or expelled from the lungs. It is this simple activity that forms the idea of Breath, one of Australia’s latest films.
Best known for his role as Patrick Jane on American television series, The Mentalist, Simon Baker both directs and stars in Breath: a coming of age drama about two teenage boys, Pikelet (Samson Coulter) and Loonie (Ben Spence). Dazed by the “pointless and elegant” art of surfing, the boys befriend the local, mysterious, older surfer and adventurer, Sando (Baker). As their friendship grows, Sando begins to push the boys to dangerous limits, driving them to take risks that will change their lives forever.
It is the 1970s. Set in a small, coastal town in the south-west region of Western Australia, Pikelet and Loonie make an unlikely pair. Pikelet, shy and compassionate, prefers to keep to the pages of his books; while Loonie, fearless and funny, causes terror on the highways of Sawyer. They both discover surfing together, and staring wide-eyed out to sea, intently watch the “blokes dancing themselves across the bay”. Sando takes the pair under his wing, acting as a prominent father-like figure in their lives. The boys are thankful that he allows them to leave their boards in his shed, at the home he shares with his American wife, Eva (Elizabeth Debicki), who was left partly crippled after a horrible skiing incident.
Spending copious amounts of time with Sando at his hippy house (much to Eva’s disgust, who is sullen or stoned for most of the film), Pikelet and Loonie soon see him as a mentor, and they begin planning daring quests to surf the biggest waves: Old Smokey and the Nautilus. As time moves forward and the boys grow older, conflicts arise that threatens the boys’ friendship and causes them to slowly drift apart.
Breath is Simon Baker’s directorial debut and what better story to direct than this Tim Winton classic. Having recently read Winton’s 2008 novel, I highly anticipated the release of this film. I was hoping it would do the book some justice; and while not everything can be presented as it is in the text, it is by far my favourite Winton re-telling.
Baker’s take on this Australian tale is truly captivating and doesn’t stray too far from the novel, keeping true to Winton’s original.
Receiving, at least initially, a 100 per cent score review on Rotten Tomatoes, I have nothing but applause for Baker and his co-producers, Jamie Hilton and Mark Johnson. Filmed around the WA town of Denmark and on the south-west coast near Albany, these phenomenal locations provide the perfect back-drop for the plot’s events to unfold on the big screen.
Cinematographers Marden Dean and Rick Rifici (who specialises in the water sequences) have created effortless beauty. Their remarkable camera work flowed together and left me in awe. The stunning montage of flawless camera shots involving the two surfers, Samson and Ben, truly show just how talented one must be when tackling the ocean––it is not a force to be reckoned with.
The two boys were cast with amateur acting experience, but were highly skilled when it came to their surfing and bodyboarding experience. Samson and Ben bring their characters to life and do so in a highly professional manner. Samson pulled off his character, Pikelet’s, more intense emotional scenes, as he goes through things most everyday 15-year-olds wouldn’t normally go through. Hence the regret that Pikelet is consumed by later in his life.
If you haven’t read the book, prepare for a confronting, controversial plot twist––one that involves erotic asphyxiation.
This moving adaptation didn’t disappoint my expectations. Reading the book beforehand is not necessary at all, however, I would recommend it, as it will help you to understand those extra details that aren’t explored in the film. It misses out the prologue and epilogue in the novel—where an adult Pikelet is a paramedic—but it does include his narration (voiced by Tim Winton himself).
The book itself is beautifully written and has a much gloomier tone in comparison to the film adaptation. I think leaving out the melancholier hues works in the film’s favour, allowing for a heavier focus on the surfing and coming-of-age elements.
Breath: it will make you laugh and cry. I have no doubt that a giant wave of emotion will engulf you, just as it did me. It will leave you sitting in your seat well after the credits have rolled, letting everything you just witnessed sink in.
Here’s some advice: take a deep breath before you enter the cinema. I can guarantee you will be holding onto it from the moment you walk through those doors, until the moment you leave two hours later.
Breath is in Australian cinemas now!