Writers: Melanie Laurent, Julien Lambroschini, Anne-Sophie Brasme
Cast: Josephine Japy, Lou de Laage, Isabelle Carre
It is a tale of two teenage girls who develop an intense and dangerous friendship. Charlie is 17-year old asthmatic girl tortured by doubt, disillusionment and solitude. Her mother had her when she was 18 years old and is in an abusive on-off relationship with her father. When the beautiful and self-confident Sarah arrives into Charlie's life, the two become inseparable. But as Sarah tires of Charlie and begins to look elsewhere for a new friend, their friendship takes an ominous turn reflecting the abusive nature of Charlie's parent's relationship with Charlie being the one who suffers like her mother.
We know Melanie Laurent as the Shosanna from 'Inglourious Basterds' and she was also recently in the excellent Denis Villeneuve film 'Enemy'. I haven't seen any of her French films and Respire is the second feature film that she has directed. The first half of the film largely deals with their friendship and its subsequent breakdown which largely occurs during a vacation that they take. It is something that I have not seen being dealt with in films in a subtle way like this film does. I have a particular theory about friendship/acquaintances based on my own experiences of it. If you go in without any prejudice, then you will first notice only the very good qualities of a particular person. Gradually over time you start noticing the bad qualities and reach a phase where you cannot stand that person at all. At this point you evaluate the whole point of it by weighing the things in terms of good and bad and make a decision as to where you want to go with it. This is something that I have experienced with all of my acquaintances and I don't know if it is the same for others. In this film, at least for Sarah it is indeed how it goes. For Charlie it is not necessarily so and she ends up being quite similar to how her mother is with respect to her father.
I would have preferred the film to carry on like it was in the first half without taking any drastic turns in terms of its plot. But that would be projecting my own expectations into the film and judging it based on that, which is not fair. Charlie finds out that there is a reason for Sarah to behave the way she does and she opts to take a patronizing tone which doesn't go down well with Sarah leading to drastic deterioration in their relationship. The title respire/breathe comes from analogy of suffocative relationships that Charlie experiences with her own asthmatic condition. In the final scene where she reflects on the drastic action that she took, it is shown that she recovers from her asthmatic attack without the aid of inhaler. At this point we can go back to the beginning of the film where one of her teacher asks the class whether pursuing a passion means you are compromising your freedom or not. For Charlie, her relationship with Sarah becomes her passion and when she finally ends that relationship, we are still not sure whether she gets more freedom even though she kind of gets over her asthma.
Overall it is a great watch but I would have preferred it to go like it did in the first half without anything drastic happening. It is an adaptation of novel with the same name by Anne-Sophie Brasme. Melanie Laurent direction is very assured and one will be reminded of Sofia Coppola's films in terms of its tone. It could very well have been done with male protagonists. I will certainly keep an eye out for other works from the director.