If you have ever felt that you are at the end of a road, left to tether away in ruins of claustrophobic self-loathing. If you have ever felt broken, on the verge of becoming rotten, and up for unquestionable decay, the relationship portrayed in Mélanie Laurent’s second directorial venture “Breathe” will echo your insides, probably shiver you to the bone & leave you tasteless.
Charlie’s (Joséphine Japy) life has been low-key, talk and walk and let the timing rattle away kinds. She is fairly popular with her friends at school, her grades are sky-high & she also has that one friend who will stick by her no matter what. She isn’t completely & truly happy though. Apart from her parents having a breakdown in their marriage, she is unable to look beyond herself, she is not lost, but she doesn’t feel found either. Laurent has very carefully judged & build the character of Charlie from scratch. It almost feels like there is a part of her in the lead protagonist.
While Charlie is going through the notions trying to stay awake & learn what passion actually means, Sarah (Lou de Laâge) enters. She is one of those people who instantly gets popular among students. Becoming everyone’s beloved and favorite. She knows what clicks for people & her lively, happy-go-lucky nature, charms you instantly. When I went back & saw the film again I realized a lot of things. One of them being Laurent’s direction, which is so sly that she coats both her leading ladies under layers, one of them becoming too dense to crawl about your head & the other just giving you a roller-coaster of emotions. Breathe is what Mean Girls would have been if it was a thriller, only darker & tenser.
There are scenes where she hides her character keeping them off-camera. Indirectly hiding her own self. It reflects to the adolescent state of being. Where the young adult acts like a million different people at the same time. When they make a best friend and like any other ‘best friends’ friendships, bickering and disagreeing happen. It’s what comes after that has been portrayed so meticulously in this little film. Laurent picks up her character & weaves her through a lot of different segments of living & breathing, where she is confused about which one would be least hurtful.
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Breathe is a female-centered film and will probably reflect with females more. The love that blossoms & the lies that lead to suffocation are presented with intense sequences of breathlessness. Not only her character finds it hard to stay afloat, we, the audience feels synced in time with them. It works as a horror film that makes you worry for these fictional characters. The evilness is Laurent’s capability of not holding back.
Breathe works on all fronts. It’s a psychological drama that outweighs its contents. There are glimmers of identity crises, depression, jealousy, isolation & crippled physical & mental trauma. While it glides unflinchingly through its running length it keeps you engrossed in the excellent compositions of carefully knitted scenes. While there are a few notes that go off-key, they are pretty seldom & easily forgotten.
There is a part of the film that also depicts a seemingly fleeting instance of young lesbian love gone miserably wrong, where it goes a step above the typical teenage girl route & falls right into the emotional & psychological toll on both the involved entities. I know, I make it sound like the critically acclaimed french drama Blue Is The Warmest Color but there are jarring differences here. Breathe has a rather evil approach to some of its most tender emotional conflicts, leaving no space for it to sound overly profound. Hence, making it equally impactful.
The performances by both Joséphine Japy & Lou de Laâge pave way for a film that’s so powerful in the message it delivers that it just might be polarizing for varied people. The film is both tender & horrific. From the hysteria of a new-friendship to the psychological insights of late teens, Mélanie Laurent doesn’t miss a note. This is one of the best films I’ve seen all year.