30 August 2004 | howard.schumann
Visually striking and darkly poetic
Abandoned by his father, 15-year old David (Pierre-Louis Bonnetblanc) is sent by his mother to spend his summer with his uncle in the rural Limousin region of France and has to contend with the backwardness of French country life. Deep Breath, the highly stylized and poetic first feature by Damian Odoul is a coming of age film that uses dreams, ritual, and myth to capture the uncertain passage between adolescence and adulthood. Shot in high contrast black-and-white cinematography, Deep Breath is visually striking and its dreamscapes underscore the director's poetic relationship to the world. While the film has elements of Bresson, Bunuel, Truffaut, Cocteau, and Dumont, Odoul's darkly hued tone poem is unique to his artistic vision.
Recently expelled from school, David is unsure of what is expected of him, sometimes lashing out in frustration, at times showing affection, and, more often than not, retreating into a private world of images and sounds. He desperately wants to assert his freedom and individualism. "I walk any way I want, even sideways if I feel like it," he says but his pose hides a deeply insecure self-image. Odoul assaults our senses from the start as we witness the slaughter of a sheep for the daily meal (animal lovers are warned!) while his gruff uncle snaps at David to perform menial chores. David, however, is not in a hurry to do anything and would rather just hang out or dance convulsively while listening to French hip-hop music on his Walkman. When his uncle invites a group of men friends to drink and gamble at an afternoon barbecue, David is persuaded to join in the afternoon delight and reluctantly agrees to the macho ritual. As the drinking continues, however, the conversation becomes dark.
One man relates that his dad shot one man, Jean-Claude, in the head. "Ah, memories," he sighs. Pierrot, who is plotting to leave his wife and children, warns David: "Get this into your skull fathers always abandon their sons." David surrenders to his initiation and gets dead drunk, then tries to sober up by immersing himself in a pool of water, triggering a surreal recollection of his first sexual experience. In a hallucinatory trance, the boy stands helplessly by as the men pour some salty coffee down his throat in a scene with homoerotic overtones. Full of rage, he steals a rifle and wanders off into the fields fantasizing about wolves and looking for his friend Matthieu (Laurent Simon) and his cello-playing girlfriend Aurore (Laure Magadoux). When he meets Matthieu, it is not long before his frustration boils to the surface and finds an outlet in a shocking act that, literal or metaphoric, becomes a catalyst that will change his life forever.