Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mélanie Laurent's beautifully-acted BREATHE creates its own special, unsettling genre

TrustMovies won't attempt to define what the new and special genre mentioned in the headline above actually is, for fear of unveiling a spoiler en route. Best to simply say that this new film begins as one thing and ends as quite another, with each step along the way providing a believable and enjoyable experience. BREATHE does not so much jump genres as turn into its own, sui-generis example. In the annals of oh-my-god-how-did-we-get-here? stories, this one is a keeper: psychologically, emotionally and intellectually sound.

Mélanie Laurent (shown at right) -- the film's director and co-adapter (with Julien Lamborschini) of the novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme -- is best known as an international actress of some repute (Enemy, Inglorious Basterds and Now You See Me, plus, in her home country, a couple dozen good French films). Breathe is her second full-length feature as writer/director (her first, The Adopted, was not released over here), and by any standard, it's a good one. Tracking the life of a very pretty, intelligent, somewhat shy and unformed high-school girl, the movie stays close to the kind of reality with which most of us can identify, having lived through something at least vaguely similar while growing up.

Parental problems, peer relationships, what to do about sex, and then, finally, the kind of attraction to another person that can become obsessive -- all these are threaded throughout Ms Laurent's narrative easily and gracefully, and the performances the filmmaker has drawn from her excellent cast are spectacularly good without a bit of grandstanding on the actors' part.

In the lead role of Charlie, the beautiful Joséphine Japy (two photos above) gives the kind of fluid, moment-to-moment performance that allows us to see the inner and outer young woman equally well. Matching Ms Japy is her co-star, Lou de Laâge (above, left), who, as the new student Sarah, creates a figure of sophistication, sex appeal, mystery and occasional vulnerability and nastiness that begins to haunt us just as she does Charlie.

The more we learn about Sarah, in fact, the more problematic she becomes and the more we fear for Charlie. What finally happens may be unjustifiable on some level, but it is completely understandable on another. The movie becomes a kind of morality tale of and for youth: Your actions have consequences, children, and some of these will be unintended and -- unfortunately -- permanent.

The rest of the fine cast are up-to-snuff, too: Ms Laurent is able to draw specific and terrific moments from her entire ensemble, with the versatile and glowing Isabelle Carré especially commendable as Charlie's emotionally-abused but all-to-wiling-to-go-there mother.

The French -- ever philosophic and often deliberately contrary -- are particularly good at serving up stories that at first glance look typical, even run-of-the-mill. Then, by broadening and deepening them via characterizations and behavior that are anything but run-of-the-mill, they hook us and take us places we might never choose to go.  Breathe is one of the better examples of this. Miss it at your peril.

From Film Movement and running a succinct 91 minutes, Ms Laurent's movie opens this Friday September 11, in New York City at the IFC Center and on Friday, September 18, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. To view all currently scheduled playdates, click here and scroll down.

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