The effects of the Greek economic crisis loom over the women at the core of One Breath like a plague that is about to get worse. Tired of the fact that the Greece’s economic downturn is stifling job opportunities for her and her boyfriend Costas (Apostolis Totsikas), Elena (Chara Mata Giannatou) decides to leave Athens for Frankfurt, where a friend has set her up with a bartending job at a nightclub. Shortly after arriving in the country, a mandatory medical examination reveals that Elena is pregnant, automatically putting the kibosh on the nightclub gig. Desperate for a job, and with no medical insurance, Elena applies for a nanny position for a wealthy couple, Tessa (Jördis Triebel) and Jan (Benjamin Sadler), despite having no experience with children.
Believing that she can just “wing it” until she learns the ropes, Elena quickly discovers that she is in over her head. As if taking care of their baby girl was not stressful enough, Elena finds the increasingly demanding nature of the couple, especially the constantly judgmental Tessa, tough to bear. When the pressures of both the job and the pregnancy leads to a horrifying incident on her watch, Elena opts to flee rather than face the consequences.
Instead of following Elena’s plight on the run, director Christian Zübert does something rather bold by shifting his lens towards Tessa. In doing so Zübert not only provides a different angle to the unfolding events, but actually manages to make the audience sympathize with the seemingly icy character. Tessa represents the women who are expected to live up to the unrealistic standard that their male counterparts do not have imposed on them. She must not only be a fierce business woman in the office, and be able to juggle the intense workload that comes with it, but also be the perfect mother and wife upon arriving home at the end of the day.
When Tessa snaps at Elena “no one asks me if I am stressed”, it comes off as condescending when viewed from Elena’s perspective. However, when seen through Tessa’s eyes it is gut-wrenching. Adding to all of this is the fact that the men in Elena and Tessa’s lives are ineffectual. Costas and Jan talk tough, frequently trying to assert their respective dominances, but are essentially men still clinging to their mother’s apron strings. Neither one is truly willing to take a stand and do what is right when faced with tough decisions, leaving the women to carry the unfairly heavy burden of responsibility themselves. This is especially true when Tessa travels to Greece in search of Elena.
As both women weather the storm down their individual paths, One Breath never chooses sides. Zübert is more interested in examining how each woman deals with the adversity in front of them, some of which is a result of their own doing. While the effects of the economic crisis are most prevalent in the latter portions, Zübert does not let it overpower the film. It is merely a catalyst for discussion. He is more concerned with whether or not compassion can still find a place in times of financial and emotional strife.
Featuring sensational performances by Jördis Triebel and Chara Mata Giannatou, not to mention taut direction by Christian Zübert, One Breath is a sensational drama that will cause much discussion afterwards. It perfectly encapsulates the fear, frustration, rage, and at times, humanity that bubbles up to the surface in times of crisis.
Saturday, September 12, 7:00 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Monday, September 14, 3:30 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Saturday, September 19, 9:00 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Ticket information can be found at the TIFF website.