Breathing Under Water

Breathing Under Water (Susan Murphy Dermody, 1992) Anne Louise Lambert, Kristoffer Greaves, Maeve Dermody; art film

I made three attempts at getting through this, and I can now say confidently that I'll never see it all, and therefore should not make a final judgement about it. But I can share some impressions, and some quotations. There's a narrator (Gillian Jones) who tells the story of Beatrice's (Anne Louise Lambert, the 'Botticelli angel' from Picnic) journey into a version of Dante's Inferno, but here under Sinny and obviously with a female (and feminist) protagonist. She is accompanied by Hermann, who may perhaps perform the role played by Virgil in the original, or by Heurtebise in Cocteau's Orphée (1949). No-one is actually required to act. Lambert is clearly Susan Murphy's alter ego, while Jones provides her voice. Here are some random samples of the wishy-washiness she utters.

Surely we should make raids on the unspeakable with the weapons of desire ... The gap between the mandala and the marvellous was great. ... The uneasy life of the body in the city of money. And death of course. Which meets them all always at a distance. Always. In the dark. ... The mind is impossible. Self-made. And from the self concealed.

[Breathing Under Water] ... can be understood as an 'essay film'—one that, instead of full-bloodedly telling a story, arranges the various pieces of an argument or a reverie. ... it unfolds across the boundaries of genre, mixing documentary with fiction, fact with whimsy, world history with personal anecdote. Adrian Martin in Murray 1995: 333.

[Breathing Under Water] ... is the story of a woman's journey into an imaginary underworld city. The birth of her daughter into an increasingly perilous world has unsettled everything in Beatrice's (Anne Louise Lambert) life. Her growing unease prompts Beatrice to undertake a journey - an investigation into human nature, a confrontation with the fears of our time, and a search for clues that will ultimately give her an answer to the central riddle of the film: why has humankind set the stage for its own extinction? Ronin Films' webpage for the film.


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