Nineteen-year-old Roman Kogler (Thomas Schubert) has served part of his sentence at an Austrian juvenile detention center. He is a loner who lives in a small room and keeps to himself most of the time. Roman's counselor (Gerhard Liebmann) knows that the boy's parole hearing is coming up soon and it would be helpful if he had a job for probation and more interaction with others. The juvenile delinquent surprises him by choosing to be an apprentice at the municipal morgue in Vienna.
At first Roman is unable to handle the sight of nude corpses. One of his co-workers gives him a hard time when he seems to be frozen in the presence of the dead. But slowly, he gets used to the rhythm of the work which takes him to all parts of the city and exhausts him emotionally. Roman loves to swim in the pool and to submerge himself under water. It is a therapeutic act for him and one which serves as a pause in his day.
When one body bag bears his surname, this lonely young man is reminded of his mother who abandoned him when he was just an infant. Roman tracks her down and learns the truth about why she acted as she did. Although hurt and disappointed by his birth mother's reaction to him, Roman begins to break through the armor that he's used to separate himself from others. In one of the most magical and poignant scenes in the film, he joins one of his co-workers as they tenderly wash the body of an old woman who died at home. A nurturing side of this isolated young man begins to bloom.
Karl Markovics directs Breathing and is in no rush to finish the slow reformation of the lead character who is played well by Thomas Schubert. In the publicity notes the director explains his interest in depicting the lives, choices, and destinies of ordinary people. He has impressively accomplished that mission with this film.
Special features on the DVD include a theatrical trailer and a stills gallery.