Breathe is a French film from Melanie Laurent, who many of you may recognize from her roles in films like Inglourious Basterds, Beginners, and so on. This is her second feature film as a director, and it’s a really interesting one at that. The film is based on the novel of the same name by French writer Anne-Sophie Brasme, and it’s been making its rounds through the film festival circuit for the past year, with the film slowly being released in art-house cinemas in the U.S. Breathe is an unexpected treat from the French, and one that should definitely be looked at if its playing in your area.
Breathe tells the story of Charlie, a young French high school girl whose having a pretty rough year so far. Her parents are separating, even if her mother is incredibly reluctant to do so. Other than that, she’s a pretty average high schooler, going to parties, hanging with friends, and so forth. One day, there’s a new student named Sarah that arrives to the school, with Charlie and Sarah hitting it off pretty quickly, as they become what seems like the best of friends. However, as the story unfolds, Charlie begins to learn that Sarah is not all that she seems to be, which makes things a little bit more complicated.
Laurent directs a script she co-wrote with Julien Lambroschini. Laurent has directed some shorts before her first feature, The Adopted, in 2011, which I have yet to see. After seeing Breathe, which is titled Respire in France, I’m rather impressed with Laurent as a filmmaker, as she pieces together a really lovely and complicated character piece of these two girls, and it’s a really solid foreign language gem that is hopefully out there playing in the world for you to see. The performances of the two leads, Josephine Japy plays Charlie and Lou de Laâge as Sarah, are incredible, and make some of the slower sections of the film feel engaging and riveting. The relationship between the two girls is also really great, because of how up and down it can be at times. You don’t really know what to expect from each scene between the two, as one minute it looks like there could be some sexual attraction between the two, and the next being hate and disgust for one another after learning a thing or two about each other.
The film starts out a little slow, and it doesn’t really start to pick up until the second act of the film, when we start to learn a little more about Sarah, and becomes a really solid and intense film about how cruel high schoolers, high school girls in particular, can be. Even if you do see the ending coming from a mile away, it’s still really solid, and I really admire how Laurent ends the film with the final shot. So, if Breathe is playing in your area, and you’re getting a little overwhelmed by all the Oscar contenders playing in the multiplexes, take a trip to your local art house cinema and support foreign cinema and art house cinema as a whole. I think you’ll dig the film if you’re into that sort of thing.