I bet most of you had a best friend in high school. Someone whom you always hanged out with, told everything, shared secrets with. Someone who made you feel found. Someone who made you feel like you weren't alone anymore.
Melanie Laurent's second feature film Respire, based on the eponymous French novel, tells the story of quiet, withdrawn Charlie. Her mother is brokenhearted, her father is a cheating asshole. Charlie has friends but no one she really feels connected to. Then one day a new, intriguing girl shows up in her class - Sarah. Sarah and Charlie quickly become best friends. But nothing lasts forever and when Charlie discovers Sarah's secret things take a turn...
I'm a big fan of movies showing the dynamic of relationships between females and how destructive it can be - Poison Ivy, Single White Female, Girl Interrupted, Black Swan - just to name a few. Our friendships are so much different from the ones men have - we are closer to each other but when we fall out it usually happens in dramatic fashion. We can be there for each other in such profound ways but we can also be horribly cruel and vindictive.
The fact that we usually experience such profound friendships and first connections in our teenage years is what makes it all the more dramatic. Confusion and naivety makes everything so much more precious when it goes well and so much more disastrous when things take the turn of pettiness, teenage cruelty and the lack of thinking things through.
We don't tend to think about how what we do may end up affecting us for the rest of our lives, how we may be regretting the things we do in few years time. And we don't think about how this is just the part of life. When you are a teenager the moment feels like all there is. It feels like the relationships and feelings you have are there to stay and it would be end of your world if something changed.
All of that is portrayed really well in the movie.
While the script is the film's weakest aspect - some parts of the story such as the trip to the countryside are given way too much screentime at the expense of more important things - it is still very gripping, relatable and surprising. The characters feel like actual people and there is a great sense of realism in every scene.
film has wonderful cinematography and great, atmospheric music. Though
many shots look very beautiful everything is rather subdued, even bleak,
reflecting the inner emotions of Charlie and her destructive feelings
towards Sarah. Though at times the symbolism is too elaborate while at
the same time heavy handed - like in the scene where Charlie comes to the
costume party dressed as a panda while Sarah is wearing sexy outfit -
there are many ingenious moments in the film such as the close up of Charlie's hand caressing the window while looking at
In spite of the rich cinematography the visual side of the film never overshadows the story and the characters, largely thanks to very clever editing and pacing. There's a brilliant moment at Charlie's house that employs several different techniques, one of them being POV shot and another the camera slowly moving without a single cut to show us what is going on inside and outside that's such a clever way of telling the story.
The film wisely abandoned the flashback formula from the
novel making its finale even more powerful. The very ending is one of
the finest I've seen in the last few months and it's such an inspired
choice on Laurent's part to end the movie where she ended it. She
achieved something really haunting, disturbing and sad by making that
Respire is also a great character study - both Charlie and Sarah are very rich characters. We find out many things about them but they still remain a mystery and the story manages to surprise you several times because of the two girls' actions. Though Charlie doesn't speak much and we really don't know that much about Sarah - or at least what the truth is - they feel like real people, not made up characters.
The real standout are the performances from two very
young French actresses. Lou de Laâge is excellent as Sarah - intriguing, fun and deep inside wounded, poisonous and vengeful. She brings such
tremendous understanding to her character - you don't know whether you
should root for her, feel for her or hate her.
As amazing as Laâge is, Joséphine Japy is even better conveying so much emotion just with the look on her
face. One of the reviews I read mentioned that Japy bears strong resemblance to younger Juliette Binoche and there is definitely something to that comparison, not only in the appearance of the two but also in their subtle and nuanced acting and the sense they truly understand and empathize with their characters. Japy's performance was quite a physical challenge too as Charlie suffers from asthma and the moments of her desperately trying to catch her
breath are incredibly, claustrophobically shot. In fact, the final
breath of the film will stay with you for a long, long time.
While Respire could have been better if the script was a bit more polished it's definitely worth seeing, mainly for the two main performances and Laurent's elegant, powerful, yet subtle way of telling the story.
Respire (Breathe) (2014, 91 min)
Plot: It is tale of two teenage girls who develop an intense and dangerous
friendship. Charlie is a 17-year-old girl tortured by doubt,
disillusionment and solitude. When the beautiful and self-confident
Sarah arrives and the two become inseparable, Charlie is thrilled to
feel alive, fulfilled and invincible in their intense friendship. But as
Sarah tires of Charlie and begins to look elsewhere for a new friend,
their friendship takes an ominous turn.
Anne-Sophie Brasme (novel), Julien Lambroschini (screenplay), Mélanie Laurent (screenplay)
Joséphine Japy, Lou de Laâge, Isabelle Carré