Sunday, October 12, 2008

BREATH (Kim Ki-duk, 2007, South Korea) Kim Ki-duk has a way without words. BREATH is exhaled into the cold mo(u)rning air, its life quickly fading and becoming intangible. Yeon is apathetic and listless, her husband a stranger who is involved with another faceless woman, and she doesn’t speak a word to him: her feelings are conveyed through expression and body language reminiscent of classic silent cinema. Her eyes seem vacant, hollow mirrors that only reflect the world and not really see it. Her marital relationship is a drifting white shirt, slowly descending on the whim of nature’s breath. She is a sculptor, has a beautiful daughter, and a superficially successful life but inside she is empty and fragmented. Jang Jin’s nihilistic existence is confined to a small cell with three other inmates, on Death Row for inexplicably murdering his family. After a newscast detailing his suicide attempt in prison, Yeon visits him and forms a spiritual bond with Jang Jin under the voyeuristic and omniscient camera-eye of the Warden. Authority holds absolute power over their relationship and his face is only seen reflected in the video monitor, as if he only exists in the ether of cyberspace, a floating detached persona disconnected from human frailty. Yeon delivers sublime moments of pleasure to Jang Jin, trying to break through his stone exterior and connect him to the outside world once again…a world he has forsaken. Yeon is losing the will to live but wants her doomed partner to experience life, to inhale the richness of being, to revel in this most precious act. But Jang Jin is teaching her also through his silence and passion, and imbues her with the willpower to face adversity, to become intoxicated with desire and not tread the same violent path as he did. Kim Ki-duk has created another sensuous and involving film that looks beneath the skin for our true identity. His sparsely written dialogue is mostly shouted, a deafening roar that becomes meaningless. Yeon barely speaks the entire film but we understand her feelings and feel the tension: she is our empathetic link to the drama. Kim films in Winter with a bleak washed out panorama that seeps into Yeon’s interior landscape. But three small figures of ice and snow, their broken branches and sightless eyes begin to offer some hope towards a better tomorrow. (B+)

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