Deep Breath



Le Souffle : France 2001 : Damien Odoul : 77-80 mins

The name may sound Irish but Damien Odoul is from Le Puy, a town in the middle of the hilly Auvergne region. This is la France Profonde – the ‘real’ rural France far removed from the sophistications of Paris, with a long, honourable cinematic tradition most recently illustrated by Helene Angel’s Skin of Man, Heart of Beast. Odoul’s hometown is very near the Gevaudan region whose bloodthirsty legends inspired both Walerian Borwczyk’s notoriously raunchy La Bete (1975) and Christophe Gans’ Brotherhood of the Wolf, the riotous collision of costume drama and slam-bang supernatural action-horror that dazzled audiences and critics worldwide last year.

The success of Brotherhood caused Odoul to rename his movie, originally entitled ‘The Breath of the Wolf’ – but while the films share the same roots in local lupine mythology, that’s where the similarity ends. This is a monochrome miniature, tightly focussing on one eventful day in a remote farmhouse where city-boy David (Pierre-Louis Bonnetblanc) stews in discontented exile. He escapes from his grind of mundane tasks into the dark recesses of his adolescent imagination – a shadowy netherwold of wolves, muddy forests, and dawning sexuality.

Don’t be deceived by that brisk-seeming 80-minute running time. Deep Breath feels significantly longer, because it’s very much a film of two halves – in fact, there’s the distinct feeling that this is essentially an overextended short, made by a talented director whose reach, for the moment, comfortably exceeds his grasp. The early, more realistic sections are the best, as Odoul introduces us to David’s world, his uncle and their boozy neighbours, who call around for an all-day feast. Bonnetblanc is a real force of nature as the hormonal teenager, a boxed-in free spirit whose rebelliousness, while apparently aimless and arbitrary is, we realise, carefully modulated to chime with Odoul’s wider concerns.

These come more to the fore in the second half, when the requirements of the feature-film format require Odoul to move his story forward – into what turn out to be uncomfortably melodramatic areas, as David’s horseplay with his best friend Matthieu (Dominique Chevalier) gets out of hand with tragic results. Worse, the fantasy sequences stray into distinctly pretentious territory, with arty nods in the direction of Eraserhead-era David Lynch and, in one slow-motion section set to portentous classical music, Andrei Tarkovsky.

One unfortunate lesson Odoul seems to have learned from the Russian master is what might be termed an unsqueamish attitude to the non-human participants in his movie. Just as Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev featured unbearable images of a horse in distressing physical peril, Deep Breath‘s farm livestock come in for some very rough handling – to an extent that surely transgresses Britain’s ‘Cinematograph and Animals Act’ which bans the showing of any film in which creatures are exposed to what the act calls ‘Fear or Fury.’ Animal-lovers beware.

19th September, 2002
(seen 23rd August, Filmhouse Edinburgh – Edinburgh Film Festival)

For all the reviews from the 2002 Edinburgh Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young