“Breathe (Respire)” Review (****)

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Lou de Laâge and Joséphine Japy star in “Breathe (Respire).”

While watching “Breathe,” I was filled—simultaneously—with a sort of nostalgia and also a heavy, poignant sense of dread. The film circles, almost in a dizzying way, around the intimate friendship between two teenage girls: Charlie (Joséphine Japy) and Sarah (Lou de Laâge). And their whole relationship is so… romantic. Not in a sexual sense (strictly), nothing truly romantic happens between them, but their ideas and impressions and beliefs about one another (and the world) are so idealized and hyperbolic and wonderfully naïve. It’s a lovely thing to be young and beautiful and confident of your place within the world…until it isn’t.

Until the quiet, subtle pressures and insecurities of being a seventeen-year-old tackle you and swarm you and threaten the very breath within your lungs. The relationship between Charlie and Sarah, which at the beginning of “Breathe” was fast and intimate and intense, turns toxic rather quickly. And Sarah, who at the beginning of the film radiated exotic confidence, becomes manipulative and dangerous and emotionally abusive towards Charlie. Charlie is a far quieter soul; she’s an observer of the world, not so much a lively participant. And with an unreliable, selfish, father constantly dismissing her and her mother, Charlie readily—albeit reluctantly—accepts this kind of behavior from Sarah. She takes the bullying and skillful demoralization…until she doesn’t. It’s co-dependency at it’s worst—and best.

Atlanta Film Festival Official Selection “Breathe.”

Melanie Laurent’s sophomore directorial effort, “Breathe” is certainly a quality film worth your time and dedicated attention. It’s not a big film; it doesn’t demand a big screen, but it’s absolutely worthy of it. It is supremely well-acted; I believed every second of the story. It’s quiet and breathy and unstated. If the film were to be any more overt or saturated or loud, it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective in making the viewer feel complicit in the unfolding of its emotional threads. Laurent is an unquestionable force behind the camera, in her direction of her actors, in the particular movements of the camera, and in the way in which she chooses to tell this story.

4 out of 5 stars.

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