Film review | Breath

SWELL TIMES: Simon Baker, Ben Spence and Samson Coulter in Breath - it may look like a surfing film, but the waves are really a vehicle for a deeper tale.
SWELL TIMES: Simon Baker, Ben Spence and Samson Coulter in Breath - it may look like a surfing film, but the waves are really a vehicle for a deeper tale.

In the 1970s in a small coastal Western Australian town, two teenage boys are discovering their place in the world.

Pikelet and his mate Loonie (first time actors Samson Coulter and Ben Spence) are enjoying their boyhood escapades in a carefree way. Pikelet has a settled family life and caring parents while Loony’s father is abusive, which drives Loony in a direction that sees him taking risks because it seems he has nothing to lose.

On their trips to the beach, they encounter a group of surfers who introduce them to the delights, dangers and thrills of surfing.  

Surfing soon becomes intertwined with every aspect of their lives.

When they meet Sando (Simon Baker, who also made his directorial debut with the film) and Eva (Elizabeth Debicki), a couple Loonie calls “hippies”, the direction of their lives is changed forever.

Sando is a seasoned surfer and risk taker who tries to impart this spirit to the teenagers. He also challenges them on physical and emotional grounds to discard their fears and live the moment.

Eva’s unpresuming yet confident presence unsettles Pikelet’s burgeoning masculinity. 

Eva and Sando both know what the other needs; they bear physical and emotional scars.

Sando, although encouraging both young men to take the leap of faith, knows the treacherous nature of the water, understands how to approach the challenging waves and respects the natural conditions that dictate whether it is reasonable to challenge the elements.  

Loonie embraces the challenges and damns the consequences; Pikelet is more circumspect and reserved.

Richard Roxburgh as Pikelet’s father provides a powerful sense of a father’s concern for a child’s well being, while existing on the periphery of the film’s action. HIs mother is equally nurturing. Loonie adopts Pikelet’s family and revels in the normality they provide in his turbulent life.

The film embeds us in the Western Australian coastline. We feel the surge of the waves, the chill winds and the drenching rains. Baker condenses the thematic concerns into the raw, powerful and unpredictable energy of the ocean. It’s all a metaphor for life.

The underwater images of the swirling motion of the waves are incredible.

Outwardly, Breath looks like a surfing film. Surfing is the underlying framework for Pikelet and Loonie’s journey of discovery.

There are no surprising jolts, just subtle observations and comments. The occasional voiceovers by Tim Winton as the narrator gently guide our journey.

We are swept along by Simon Baker’s lyrical and moving tale of youth establishing a sense of place in the larger scale of existence.  It’s a big topic that Baker succeeds in narrowing to an accessible, beautiful series of images and gentle, casual performances.

His ability to control the flow of the film as director while acting the part of Sando is a testament to his skill as a filmmaker.