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Breathe (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

Breathe (Respire)

Breathe (Respire)

BREATHE (RESPIRE) (2014)

Starring Joséphine Japy, Lou De Laâge, Isabelle Carré, Claire Keim, Rasha Bukvic, Roxane Duran, Thomas Solivéres, Camille Claris, Louka Meliava, Louise Grinberg, Fanny Sidney, Anne Marivin, Marie Denarnaud, Carole Franck and Alejandro Albarracín.

Screenplay by Mélanie Laurent and Julien Lambroschini.

Directed by Mélanie Laurent.

Distributed by Film Movement.  91 minutes.  Not Rated.

Bullying has become a huge topic in schools worldwide, but it has been happening for as long as there have been children.  However, sometimes it does seem that it has become even more pervasive in the modern world, where the internet has added a new level of anonymity from which to torture the smaller and weaker.

As a boy growing up, bullying was pretty simple – strong kid beat the crap out of weaker kid.  However, with girls, the bullying was always much more devious, more mental attack than physical, and arguably much more damaging.  As Elaine Benes succinctly joked on an episode of Seinfeld to distinguish the difference between boys bullying and girls bullying: “We just tease someone until they develop an eating disorder.”

Of course it isn’t a joke to the one on the receiving end.  Girl bullies have become something of an archetype in pop culture – in films like Mean Girls, Heathers, Carrie, My Summer of Love, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Dazed & Confused and in books like Reconstructing Amelia, Wonder and Thirteen Reasons Why.

The above books were all written for young adult audiences.  Breathe is based on another YA novel called Respire (French for breathe) by Anne-Sophie Brasme.  The storyline has been tweaked significantly though – the climactic scene apparenty appeared well earlier in the book – but without having actually read the book it feels very natural to the story to have it at the end.

Breathe takes place in a modern French high school.  It tells the story of Charlie (Joséphine Japy), a cute and smart but shy girl who isn’t exactly in with the popular crowd, but she’s not that far out of the loop either.  She’s got friends but is somewhat bored, tired of her unhappy home life (mom and dad are quickly headed towards divorce) and her nice but unadventurous best friend.

However, her life changes quickly when she meets Sarah (Lou de Laâge), an exchange student who has apparently just moved from Africa.  Sarah is gorgeous and wild, fearless  and impetuous, and she quickly becomes fast friends with Charlie.  From the very beginning Charlie sees that Sarah is a bit out-of-control and unpredictable, but her sense of danger makes her all the more intriguing to the sheltered young girl.

They have only been friends for a matter of weeks when Charlie decides to bring Sarah along on a family vacation with friends.  It is there – amongst the cramped quarters and cute guys all around – that their friendship starts developing cracks.  By the time they go back to school Sarah has distanced herself from Charlie, starting to lie about her to mutual friends and tease her in the hallways.  Then when Charlie finds out Sarah’s darkest secret, Sarah makes it her role in life to destroy Charlie at the school.  No one can seem to understand why Charlie seems content to let her.

Breathe is the second film directed by French actress Mélanie Laurent, who has performed in dozens of films in her homeland and several English language films in the US as well.  She is best known in the States for her starring performance as the Jewish refugee turned freedom fighter who plots to kill Adolf Hitler in Quentin Tarentino’s Inglourious Basterds, as well as doing terrific supporting turns in Beginners and Now You See Me.

Breathe shows that she has a terrific filmmaking eye – one particular scene where a girl watches her friend from the outside of an apartment while the other moves from room to room framed in the open windows is a masterful bit of camerawork.

She has also coaxed wonderful performances by her leads.  By keeping their performances quiet and subtle the sense of oncoming tragedy comes naturally.  Breathe feels very real to life, even though we have seen similar stories before it never ceases to be heartbreaking.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 11, 2015.

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