Review: With ‘Breathe,’ the great Mélanie Laurent directs a wonderful film

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I have adored actress Mélanie Laurent for years now, and was intrigued by the idea of her moving behind the camera. “Breathe” ranks among her finest achievements; I gave it 3 1/2 stars in the Buffalo News.

“Breathe,” the directorial debut for wonderful French actress Mélanie Laurent, is an astute study of the emotions and pains of adolescence.

Laurent is best known in North America for her role as revenge-seeking Shoshanna in Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist WWII extravaganza “Inglourious Basterds.” It was the film’s finest performance, and one that deserved award consideration. She also has appeared in films such as “Beginners,” “Now You See Me” and the 2009 French hit “Le Concert.” (She even released a fine album in 2011.)

“Breathe” tells a simple story, but one that should resonate with anyone who dealt with unpopularity, nastiness or troubled friendships as a teenager.

Charlie (Joséphine Japy) is a quiet, thoughtful teen who forms a strong friendship with a girl who might be considered her opposite. Sarah (Lou de Laâge) is outspoken and impulsive, a new kid in town with a mysterious, slightly questionable past.

This air of mystery makes Sarah seem slightly exotic, and to Charlie, wondrously fresh. With Charlie’s parents on the verge of splitting up, the arrival of this new friend could not seem better.

However, a few comments hint at a fracturing relationship between the two, and after Sarah joins Charlie on a family trip, things take a dark turn. Soon, Sarah is leading an effort at school to harass Charlie, who grows increasingly somber and despondent.

The scenes of Charlie’s treatment at school are breathtakingly sad, an indictment of bullying and the power of calculated persecution. Laurent and her young stars make it all believable and even understandable. Only with a melodramatic turn in the final few minutes does “Breathe” make a wrong turn.

Despite that conclusion, the film is both harsh and heartbreaking, a story of teenage wildlife as strong as the recent French classic “Blue is the Warmest Colour.”

 

Photo courtesy of Film Movement