Jacob Richardson | 13/05/2018
Beautiful but ponderous, Simon Baker’s directorial debut eschews much of the standard Winton formula and much of the guff in pursuit of something much more subtle.
Set in the 1970s, Breath follows two teenage boys, Pikelet (Samson Coulter) and Loonie (Ben Spence), who form a connection with an older surfer, Sando (Simon Baker) and his on again, off again girlfriend Eva (Elizabeth Debicki). As Sando pressures the two to surf larger and larger waves, Pikelet starts to question what he wants in life.
Breath spends a good amount of it’s first hour just on learning to surf. It’s not in any hurry to rush you into the ins and outs of a plot. You get the impression that Baker would be just as happy bobbing around on a surfboard in the middle of the blue ocean, he captures so well in this film, as he would be with capturing a wave. Because above all else, Breath is patient, and it certainly pays off.
We’re gifted beautiful drone photography, cinematography and underwater sequences that draw us into the fundamental love of the ocean and love of surfing that these three character evidently possess. The way that they approach it, then, becomes the differentiator between them; Sando with craggled old familiarity, Loonie with an absolute reckless abandon, and Pikelet… well, that is the point of the film; what relationship will he choose to have with the ocean?
While it ambles along at it’s own pace, Breath never truly feels slow; always hanging right on the precipice of engagement and disinterest. The fact that it manages to always stay on the right side of that balance is a testament to Baker’s capacity as a director. This is further evident in his choice of what not to include in the film. He does away with a number of Winton’s more fantastical novelistic elements, and the film (and most certainly the powerful ending) is all the better for it.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. The two young leads, being surfers Baker has managed to rope into a film rather than actors pretending to surf, flit back and forth between surprisingly capable and distractingly amateurish. While it brings a sense of reality and novelty to the film, it can also take you out of the story at times.
Breath is a love letter to the ocean and the surf, and Simon Baker pitches it as such. On that level, it works tremendously well. If, at times, it doesn’t quite have the same success as a narrative, the roiling ocean visuals will tide you through until it picks back up again.