Published May 07, 2012In modern Western culture, far removed from the times of Mary Poppins, it's odd to think of chimney sweeping as a viable vocation for a young woman. Of course, with European architecture pre-dating our newfangled architecture, this career path is still very much present east of the Atlantic, keeping Francesko, the only female Estonian chimneysweep, employed.
Clad in her black uniform, with oversized brass buckle, this subject of Kullar Viimne's occasionally oblique documentary, Breath, discusses and performs her daily routine for the camera with a cigarette propped in her blackened, soot-covered hand. Balancing on steep rooftops and lugging around awkward tools, Francesko carries out a traditionally male role, helping others by allowing their homes to breathe, as the title suggests.
While passers-by routinely stop to touch the chimneysweep for good luck ― a common custom in Estonia ― Viimne injects a variety of juxtaposing techniques to highlight the distinctions between work-life balances and the place of spirituality in modern culture. He also attempts to draw out the personal, feminine identity of his subject, showing her strip down to her underwear to suntan, noting that she is more than her profession, as highlighted by stripping as metaphor made literal.
This distinction of the personal versus the professional ties into the greater theme of modern happiness and spirituality, which is highlighted by the connection drawn between Francesko's day-to-day existence and a spiritual compound where healers use breathing techniques to help the sick.
Unfortunately, the introduction of the compound is never expanded upon beyond the vague thematic implication, leaving much of the potential intrigue at bay. It makes the conclusion and intention of the documentary somewhat perplexing, even if the actual depiction of the protagonist gives us a unique look at the charismatic and pleasant woman behind the filthy façade. (Rühm Pluss Null)