BREATHE – movie review



Bleecker Street/Participant Media
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten,
Grade: B
Director:  Andy Serkis
Written by: William Nicholson
Cast:  Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 10/4/17
Opens: October 13, 2017
Breathe Movie Poster
The tsunami of self-help books churned out annually usually have nothing new to say, assuming you have read a few and absorb the key theme: that experiences make people happier than things.  But recently, there was a new insight that may be difficult to believe.  The suggestion is that severally handicapped people are suicidal at first, since after all, who wants to spend a good part of life blind, paralyzed, or without movement in more than one limb?  But then, according to the happiness authors, the handicapped people not only accept their disabilities, but because of how they now value life, they may be happier than ever.  Think about that when you see in veteran actor Andy Serkis’s freshman contribution as director with “Breathe.”  The movie will probably be criticized for some sloppy sentimentality, the Hallmark critique that you can attach to many a poignant tale.  But there is enough solid emotional content aside from the three-hanky output to merit a watch for all but the most unemotional folks.

Screenwriter William Nicholson could no doubt pen some Hallmark cards on the side. His emotional script, one that brings to the audience not only tears but also precious insights into the world of the severely disabled.  His focus on a severe form of polio, the disease that affected Franklyn D. Roosevelt which cost him the use of his legs, is worse in the case of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield).  Robin is totally paralyzed and has the use of only face and voice, wholly dependent on others especially his wife Diana (Claire Foy), and is blessed by a coterie of good friends and doctors who help him get over his initial depression.  The result: he lives far more than the few months that the physicians would allot.  The only movie figure whose disability was worse that Robin’s was Jean-Do, played by Mathieu Amalric in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a man whose massive stroke leaves him with the ability to move only his left eye.  There’s always someone who is worse off that you and I.

Robin Cavendish was an actual person (see the Wikipedia article), a British subject who in 1958 came down suddenly with polio, a disease which announced its morbid presence as Robin loses a tennis match with a friend for the first time.  (By the way, wasn’t the Salk vaccine first used five years earlier?) By the next day or two, he cannot move his legs, his arms, and would be unable to breathe lest he be attached to a respirator—a life-saving but ghastly tube which, if removed, or if the electric power were to shut down for just two minutes would leave him dead. Were it not for his wife Diana, he might have succumbed to terminal depression. Though Diana is advised by her mother that to stay with her husband would deny her a good life, she soldiers on, taking care of the poor man, getting him out of the hospital despite the pleas of the grumpy administrator. Given his friendship with roommate Paddy (David Wilmot) who bets five pounds that Robin would not survive the year, he is almost sorry to depart.

Ultimately this may be a story of how Robin helped to invent a chair, respirator on the bottom, to allow him to sit up and travel, but it’s mostly about his joyful relationship with his wife Diana, that rare person who would not only refuse to abandon her man to live live live! but who sincerely believes that Robin gave her “a good life” for a quarter century.

If your tears have not started flowing, Serkis makes sure to keep Bing Crosby’s crooning of Cole Porter’s song “True Love” in the soundtrack.

Rated PG-13.  117 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

HUMAN FLOW – movie review


Amazon Studios
Director:  Ai Wei Wei
Cast:  Ai Wei Wei
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/18/17
Opens: October 13, 2017
Human Flow Movie Poster
Famine, Poverty, War, Disease: Four horsemen of the apocalypse, human problems that will not likely go away as people make their New Year’s resolutions for 2018. Most of us know about the overwhelming problems faced by people who leave their lands in search of a better life or, indeed, of just a continued life somewhere where they can be fed and live with people who respect them as human beings.  It’s not until we see Ai Wei Wei’s engrossing, yet sad, documentary, that we see visual examples of the terrors that face tens of millions of the world’s seven billion.  And these may be the lucky ones.  Others simply stayed in their homelands, too sick or old or indifferent to move, as their bodies shriveled with malnutrition, their very beings torn apart by bombs.

Ai Wei Wei, who seems to have traveled almost as much as Hillary Clinton when she was Madam Secretary, at age sixty is an artist who has been openly critical of the lack of Chinese democracy.  In making this film he emerges once again as a humanist, a fellow concerned not with Trump’s super rich one percent, not even with the U.S. politicians’ favorite target the Middle Class, but with people who are not only poor like America’s homeless but who are at risk of life and limb.  As we see them in this film, which could have easily gone another hour to cover the field, they are walking, traveling in rickety boats, getting some rest in tents.  The verbal ones face the cameras to talk about their grievances, some in halting English, but most with their native languages of Arabic (as with Jordanians, Syrians, Iraqis and Gazans) Turkish, and other tongues.  Those affiliated with organization to help these people speak English while there are snippets of German and Greek as well.

Some of the 65 million on the move from 23 countries, who are photographed by some 12 cinematographers, are turned away by guards or by fences (there are no 70 such barriers) and barbed wire, others given just temporary respite from xenophobic authorities.  “Don’t send us back to hell,” shouts one woman, presumably more willing to live in a rain-soaked tent than to go back to their failed communities largely in Asia and Africa.  They heard that Europe is a continent enjoying freedom and democracy and empathy for the downtrodden, which they can occasionally confirm when, for example, Italian aid workers give them foil capes for warmth, probably in Lampadusa (see the movie “Fuocoamare” for more on this).

Palestinians from Gaza note that millions of their ilk are in Jordan and Lebanon, and while these people are critical of Israel, they do not utter the fierce denunciations of the Jewish state which newscasters love to capture.  One creature does find solace after living like an animal: a tiger, having escaped into Egypt thanks to a tunnel built by Gazans to sneak into Israel, paces around his cage like an animal in my own borough’s Prospect Park zoo: frustrated in his desire to live as a tiger should live.  That tiger lucks out by being flown to South Africa where he or she will presumably be released to a sanctuary.

Unrated.  140 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+