Contemporary World Cinema | 2017 | 115 minutes
Stranger Says: An uncommonly strong coming-of-age story about two young best friends in early 1970s Australia who, under the tutelage of an older adept, become immersed in the itinerant, vaguely mystical, entirely hardcore culture of surfing (before it was a lifestyle available to weekend warriors). The film is based on a best-selling Australian book, and you can easily see why the story and characters would generate such broad appeal. It’s not quite as brainy as William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days, but not quite as cartoony as Point Break. And the surfing bits are killer.
SIFF Says:The camera has long had a love affair with surfing’s death-defying acrobatics, but rarely has the lifestyle survived the demands of gripping drama on dry land. BREATH, based on Aussie author Tim Winton’s 2008 novel, breaks through the clichés of the “Zen of surfing” genre to tell a naturally acted coming-of-age story about budding masculinity, set in the 1970s on the wild beaches of Western Australia. The narrative centers on 13-year-old Bruce (Samson Coulter), whom his friends know as “Pikelet,” and his daredevil best mate, “Loonie” (Ben Spence). When the boys first catch a glimpse of surfers riding monster waves, they become instantly hooked. Soon the teens’ enthusiasm is noted by a crusty, enigmatic “surfie” named Sando (Simon Baker, from the American TV series, “The Mentalist”), who takes the kids under his wing. But tensions mount as Loonie and Sando take increasingly risky chances on the deadly waves, leaving Pikelet behind, where he learns other life lessons with Sando’s unhappy girlfriend, Eva (Elizabeth Debicki). In his feature directorial debut, Baker plays the polar opposite of his TV persona, with a scruffy beard and an air of melancholy. Told with voiceover narration from author Winton himself, the film hews closely to its source material with the dreamlike underwater cinematography from Rick Rifici, and sun-drenched honey hues from Marden Dean on land.
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