Breathe (2014) - Laurent
On the onset, Breathe, an ingenue actress turned director Melanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds, The Beginners)'s sophomore effort, is just another typical sweet, slightly lascivious coming of age French fare with beautiful, young actresses. Rather, the film slowly charts an Ozon-esque territory (sans calculated plot twist and sadism) with the unexpected but well earned 3rd act. You are really in for a big surprise!
Her parents going through a bitter divorce at home, Charlie (Joséphine Japy) spends much time by herself and rely on few of her friends for companionship. Everything changes when Sarah (Lou de Laâge) shows up. For her exotic background (she tells impressionable classmates that she had to flee Nigeria when political climate got too dangerous for her NGO mom) and her mischievousness, Charlie is quickly drawn to her and they fast become bff.
Things slowly turn sour after the Sarah spends the summer vacation with Charlie's family; Charlie sees her new best friend's tendency to dominate and manipulate others. But she is madly infatuated with her.
When Charlie points out inconsistencies in Sarah's stories regarding her background and finds out who she really is, it's an all out assault from Sarah- she manipulates her friends, destroys her reputation by putting graffiti all over the school declaring Charlie is a whore, messes with her personal belongings. Torn between her loyalty toward her object of obsession and pending complete isolation and social stigma, things take a toll on good-hearted Charlie physically and mentally - soon she is failing classes and withdrawn from her friends.
Based on a best selling book, Réspire by young novelist Anne-Sophie Brasme (who wrote the book when she was 16), the subject of Breathe can be taken as those run-of-the-mill, catty High School dramas so prevalent in prime-time teen shows. But Laurent has such a knack for drawing out that indescribable feelings in those confusing, vulnerable and fleeting time we called teenage years with such tenderness and care, the film transcends its YA origins and becomes a deeply moving tragedy akin to psychological dramas of André Téchiné.
Acting in Breathe is phenomenal: Sarah, a sneering bad girl with a secret, Lou de Laâge embodies her with her sultry voice and full lips and steals the show as a typical femme fatale, yet never makes her character two dimensional. But it's wide-eyed ingenue Joséphine Japy who displays a greater talent. Playing a normal, slightly sullen good girl transforming into an emotionally distraught, ultimately destructive murderess, she possesses an amazing range. Her portrayal of an intelligent and innocent facade being slowly taken over by obssession strongly reminds me of young Juliette Binoche in Rendez-vous.
Gorgeously shot by Arnaud Potier (who also shot Laurent's debut film The Adopted) and rhythmically paced (with lots of, ahem, breathing room), Breathe is a very well orchestrated as well as acutely observed film about teen obsession that shows great and very promising directing talent of Melanie Laurent.
Breathe opens in New York on Friday, September 11 at the IFC Center and September 18 in Los Angeles.