'The Breath': Berlin Review

By Ide, Wendy | Screen International, February 14, 2019 | Go to article overview

'The Breath': Berlin Review


Ide, Wendy, Screen International


Uli M. Schueppel concludes his ‘Berlin Chants’ trilogy

Dir: Uli M. Schueppel. Germany. 2019. 95 mins

The night unlocks the stories of Berlin. Those people still awake in the small hours are more ready to unburden themselves to a stranger. This delicate, mosaic documentary takes as its theme “breath” and asks its subjects, all filmed at night, to share a moment when they, for whatever reason, held their breath. Breathing is such a fundamental component of the lifeforce that it’s perhaps unsurprising that many of the stories deal with the proximity of death. But there are others too: rare moments of joy and metaphysical transport, all woven together into an enveloping quilt of a movie.

The verse structure means that the film could exist almost as comfortably in an exhibition space as it does in a cinema

This is the third film in the ‘Berlin Chants’ trilogy, created over a twenty year period by Uli M. Schueppel. The films deal with the themes of “space, time and body.” The first, The Place, premiered at the Berlinale in 1998, and showed in both festivals and art institutions like MOMA and the ICA; the second, The Day, showed in Rotterdam among others. The Breath seems likely to follow a similar trajectory of festival exposure and gallery interest. The verse structure means that the film could exist almost as comfortably in an exhibition space as it does in a cinema.

Shot in high contrast black and white, the film emphasises the crystalline light of the city at night. Fans of grainy, desolate shots of urban sprawl will be well served: Cornelius Plache’s lens is particularly adept at capturing moments of fleeting beauty in the grimy gloom. The lit windows of a train string through the darkness like pearls; an elegantly composed shot captures a lone swimmer churning through the glowing water of a pool. …

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