Wednesday, February 11, 2015


By s. Wednesday, February 11, 2015 , , , , , , ,
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Melanie Laurent's second feature film Respire, based on the eponymous French novel, tells the story of quiet, withdrawn Charlie.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.

The 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 Sarah.
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 choice.
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.
Director: Mélanie Laurent
Writers: Anne-Sophie Brasme (novel), Julien Lambroschini (screenplay), Mélanie Laurent (screenplay)
Stars: Joséphine Japy, Lou de Laâge, Isabelle Carré



  1. I didn't even know Melanie Laurent was directing a movie! This made me think about my own experience in high school, not as intense as this one but I definitely got what you're saying that the fall out with someone really close to us, esp in our teenage years, can be pretty dramatic. Well, even though it's not perfect, sounds like miss Laurent does have some directing chops.

    1. It's really worth seeing and Laurent is a very good director, I think she may be even better at directing films than acting in them. There were some truly inspired directing choices made here.

  2. Lovely review! Like Ruth said, I didn't even know Laurent directed. This definitely sounds like something I'd be interested in. And you're so right about female relationships. One of my best friends in high school that I was closest to, we had one hell of a fight after graduation and literally never spoke to each other again. Oh, the drama.

    1. I sometimes almost feel bad for men they have to deal with us, dramatic females.

      Almost :)

  3. I know nothing about this - novel or otherwise, but this sounds very interesting. I could go for a bit of a character study for once.

    Guys have their own version of falling-outs, too...but I guess we can't compete with you ladies, huh? It helps that we don't remember what the Hell happened prior to the last calendar year half the time.

  4. What a beautiful review! Your writing talent really shines here. It's a shame this movie was a bit underwhelming.

    1. Thank you! Oh, you saw it? That's great I thought only few people from imdb checked it out outside of France.

  5. Nice review. I feel like there's no much to say about this film because it's right there, it's raw and powerful, even that very subtle, like many french films that i've seen, they feel so intimate and real. I think every girl who was a teenager can relate to this, and what you say it's true, our friendships are different, i agree that every moment of the film capture this so well and i really liked how the film remains impartial, we can relate to both Charlie and Sarah, we can see them both, i guess this is a good aspect of the direction. Also there's a scene that i found particularly interesting that i wish you had commented! It's when Sarah is dancing and it's showed in slow motion, while in their vacation, it just shows the adoration that Charlie holds towards her, this spoke to me as very real, for when we're young and it was showed very beautifully. I thought this was much better than Mélanie's first film, Les Adoptés, i don't know if you watched, which is interesting but too much melodrama. Sorry that i did like a second review here, it's just that i loved this film and no one talks about it! Sorry for my english too, by the way, second language. I love your blog, and your reviews! :)

    1. Don't worry, your English is great! Thanks so much for reading and for the comment. I haven't seen her first movie, but I really hope she continues to direct, just based on Respire she definitely has a talent for it. i love that scene you mentioned, there simply were too many terrificly observant moments like that for me to mention them all in the review :)

  6. Yeah, like, how did I not know that Laurent was directing films?!?!?!

    This sounds really intriguing. I can't find the DVD, but it looks like Amazon has it on VOD, so I hope to check it out soon. Great review!

  7. Nice review. This sounds very good. I saw the poster for this somewhere, but I forgot that Laurent was the director. I'll have to check it out.