Respire (Breathe)


Loosely adapted from the novel by Anne Sophie Brasme, Respire (Breathe) is a French psychological thriller of a friendship turned into obsession. Internationally acclaimed actress, Mélanie Laurent (Beginners, Inglourious Basterds) follows her 2011 directorial debut, The Adopted, with a strong second feature and one of the most talked about films at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie’s home life is not so healthy. It’s downright dysfunctional as she sits in the crossfire of her parents passive-aggressive spats, aware of the emotional abuse and codependency in their crumbling marriage. Demure and self-effacing, Charlie (Joséphine Japy) also has mild bouts of asthma. But this is a French film, and although there is some major foreshadowing in the beginning (including the masterful use of static sound that ties the story from beginning to end), life is not depicted in black and white. Charlie has a lot going for her: she is smart, pretty, full of laughter and engaged at her high school. She has a group of caring friends, including a loyal best friend and a respectful ex-boyfriend who still pines for her. 

Enter the charismatic new girl, Sarah (Lou de Laâge). After four years living abroad in Nigeria, where she says her mother works for an NGO, Sarah has an air about her that is intoxicating and alluring, complete with pouty lips and tousled hair. When she decides to focus her affection on Charlie, the latter is overjoyed, and their relationship grows rapidly over a short period of time. As the girls’ bond deepens, the playful cuts produce whirlwind feelings of exhilaration. Breathtaking and lush, the cinematography is romantic and dreamy, with lots of sunlight. The lighting and filters are as seductive as Sarah, and seem to whisper her arrival before she appears.

Reality, however, isn’t as it seems. After a holiday trip to the woods, their relationship suddenly shifts. Charlie’s world is thrown off course, shedding light on the effect that her parents have had on her, especially her mother Vanessa (Isabelle Carré). As the dynamics in their friendship continue to erode, the film’s lingering shots and use of slow motion, once so airy and light, begin to smother with mounting tension. With Respire, Laurent proves herself a formidable talent as writer and visual storyteller.


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