‘Don’t Breathe’: Toronto Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Like being stuck for 80 minutes listening to amiable strangers complain about their medical troubles

Georgian director Nino Kirtadze ("The Pipeline Next Door") offers a portrait of modern medicine Tbilisi-style in her latest documentary

“A man walks into his doctor’s office,” is a classic opening line for many jokes, and black humor threads its way through Don’t Breathe, Georgian director Nino Kirtadze’s (The Three Lives of Edward Shevardnadze, The Pipeline Next Door) fifth feature. Although described as a documentary, thissometimes droll, observational work about a Tbilisi-based couple who get into a spiral of hypochondriacal fretfulness when the husband’s shoulder starts hurting plays more like a feature with its clearly staged or re-enacted scenes, cute narrative punchline and slow-burn rhythms. But it burns much too slowly in the first hour, and will challenge the patience of some viewers with its almost perverse lack of drama. The oxygen of festival exposure will be thin for this one.

Levan Murtazashvili, a middle-aged middle-manager at a Georgian power company, is first met in a hospital, undergoing an MRI scan to find out what’s causing him pain in his right shoulder. When he sits down with the doctor with his partner, Irma Inaridze, to hear the prognosis, he’s baffled by the double-Dutch of medical jargon that gets spewed at them, although the gist seems to be that it’s bursitis and it’s not that serious.

However, once the couple get home to their apartment and have their friends and neighbors over to look at the scans, everyone has a horror story about incorrect diagnoses or procedures gone wrong, and before long Levan and Irma have talked themselves into thinking Levan will have to have his arm amputated – or worse. Thus he begins, chivvied on by Irma, an endless round of visits to other doctors for second opinions as well as appointments with specialists, healers and assorted therapists. His employers begin to get cross with his repeated absences from work and even the relationship with Irma starts to suffer.

Levan and Irma make for warm, likeable protagonists, and there’s something in their story that should strike a chord with anyone past the first flush of youth and not living in a country with a national health care system. Kirtadzeevokes the friendliness and familial spirit of her hometown with an insider’s affection. But that’s really not quite enough to sustain interest over the long haul. In the end, the whole experience is like being stuck for 80 minutes listening to amiable strangers complain about their aches and pains, and only medical obsessives would really find that amusing.

Production companies: A Zadig Productions production in co-production with Commune Image, in collaboration with YLE

Cast:Levan Murtazashvili, Irma Inaridze, Sandro Murtazashvili, Ina Inaridze, Nana Inaridze

Director:Nino Kirtadze

Producers: Heidi Fleisher, Céline Nusse, Paul Rozenberg

Cinematographers: Andro Sanovich, Tornike Shengelia,Jacek Petrycki, Octavio


Editors: Nino Kirtadze, Christel Aubert, Josianne Zardoya

Sales: Deckert Distribution


No rating, 86 minutes