In Simon Baker’s film, there is a visually stunning moment – one among many – of a giant curving wave on the verge of breaking that recalls the Japanese artist Hokusai’s famous ‘The Great Wave of Kanagawa’. What these two images share is the sense of rapturous beauty that doesn’t underestimate the challenge it offers. It seems appropriate to start on this note as the cinematography (the work of Marden Dean and Rick Rifici) creates from the outset the centrality of the surf to the film, as indeed it is in Tim Winton’s 2008 novel.
Winton has in recent years been well served in the matter of his novels’ being adapted to the screen. The television miniseries Cloudstreet (2011) captured the novel’s poetic dealings with the possibility of reconciliation between contrasting approaches to living, and the three-hour Turning (2013), for which Winton co-authored the screenplay, miraculously wove seventeen of his short stories of interlocking lives into a coherent panorama – or mosaic? – of turning points and convergences in a coastal community. In Breath, his voice is heard on the soundtrack as that of Bruce Pike (‘Pikelet’), a mature version of the film’s youthful protagonist, drawing on the novel’s perceptions, as he intones: ‘Never had I seen something so beautiful, so pointless and elegant, as if dancing on water was the best thing a man could do.’