Ah, high school… Now it feels like a long-lost and slightly surreal world, many light years away. But try and remember, if you can, those times when you were a student. We all had fixed roles to play. Group loyalties among groups of friends ran so deep they almost felt punishable by death and any little thing that went wrong felt like the end of the world as we knew it. This was pretty much true for everyone but especially, I think, for girls. Girls friendships are intense, emotional, and all in all they live on an emotional landscape that is never quite repeated later on. I am not saying that this is a good or bad thing. I am just saying that it is unique. And Breathe is a very raw and realistic analysis of just such a relationship between two girls, Charli and new girl in class Sarah.
Charli is one of the top students in class. She is serious and relatively quiet –but has a big group of friends she hangs out with on a regular basis. So when a new girl arrives in class, it is a natural choice to pair her up with Charli, so she can help with her lessons and just help her ease in. The girls hit it off right away. Soon they are doing literally everything together: sleepovers, first joint, giggly discussions about sex and boys, sharing clothes and make-up, the lot. Sarah is outgoing, charismatic and soon she has all eyes on her. Charli is the balance Sarah needs. And just as Sarah settles into Charli’s every day life and taking her on a family holiday seems like a completely natural idea, everything comes toppling down. All of a sudden, hate blossoms with the same emotional intensity that love and friendship previously had. The question is, how far will the girls go in the intense exchange of blows? It may actually be the end of the world as they know it…
I think it is the recalling of this emotional intensity that makes coming of age films set in high school so appealing to filmmakers and viewers alike. It is born, of course, from the fact that we are experiencing so many firsts – first love, first true friendships, first faltering steps away from our parents towards independence. It is the excitement, the rush and the first time we are feeling all these feelings so they are, if you like, fresh. It is thanks to the skill of director Melanie Laurent, along with her young but very talented cast that this vivid world is completely reconstructed before your eyes but also, maybe, in your hearts – as you cannot help but to have a rush of nostalgia as Charli goes on the rollercoaster that is her friendship with Sarah.
On the other hand, it is the story of a very typical kind of friendship, where there is one dominant partner who runs the show and the beta, if you will, who chooses to follow. It is a fascinating psychological analysis of how the two parties value their friendship, but also how they cope with the crisis. For, it must be said, both girls have crosses to bear that are slightly too heavy for their young shoulders. It is the way they cope with this crisis that ultimately changes everything.
You might, in the first 15 – 20 minutes be discouraged by Respire, thinking it is yet another coming of age film. It is actually a very insightful psychological study of youth, friendship and an attachment that reaches almost pathological levels. If the mood that subtly creeps from light to dark does not blow you away, I assure you the explosive and dramatic conclusion will.