Movie  Respire, a film directed by Mélanie Laurent
11/08/201700:00 Judith Prescott
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Director Mélanie Laurent is better known for her appearances in front of the camera. She has starred alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names including Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds), Jake Gyllenhaal (Enemy), Morgan Freeman (Now you see me, now you don’t) and Ewan McGregor (Beginners). After a lukewarm reception to her directorial debut, Les Adoptés, she is back with Respire, an adaptation of the novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme.
 
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At first, Respire bears a certain similarity to Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour, with its focus on the intense relationship between two young woman. The film however morphs into a lacklustre thriller with a rather predictable, uninspired finale.
 
Charlie (Joséphine Japy) is a fragile 17-year-old who lives alone with her mother Vanessa (Isabelle Carré), after her parents' separation. When new girl Sarah (Lou de Laâge) arrives at school, Charlie is immediately drawn to the outgoing, fun-loving young woman and the two become best friends. But Sarah is not interested in becoming Charlie’s exclusive BFF and soon teams up with other classmates leaving Charlie out in the cold. Increasingly isolated and lonely, Charlie follows Sarah home one evening and discovers her secret. The relationship between the two begins to sour as Sarah sets out to punish Charlie for her betrayal.
 
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Brasme wrote her novel when she was just 17 years of age, so no surprises she hits the spot when portraying the difficult, often cruel, world of young women in their late teens. All credit goes to Laurent for raising a topic so infrequently talked about or even recognised in France. It is a shame a serious subject like adolescent bullying is reduced here to a mere plot device. Sarah is a disturbed, unhappy young woman who taunts and psychologically abuses Charlie, a girl who is already struggling to cope with her parents separation, the pressure of school work and final exams.
 
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What is missing – and what detracts from the authenticity of the story – is any attempt to understand why Charlie is so easily abandoned by her friends, family and teachers at a time when she needs them most. Instead there is increasing melodrama as Charlie’s gradual breakdown leads to unnecessary and shocking violence.
 
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On the plus side, the two actresses, especially Japy, are a real find. Apart from one too many scenes where the two dissolve into fits of laughing at the drop of the hat, the relationship for the first half of the film is highly credible. It’s genuinely difficult to watch as Japy portrays Charlies deepening lack of self esteem combined with an absence of self pity. De Laâge’s first film break was alongside Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent) in Frédéric Louf’s J’aime regarder les filles (18 years old and rising). In this film, she strikes just the right note as the malicious, slightly unhinged Sarah. Supported by a fine secondary cast of actors, including Isabelle Carré, Claire Keim and Carole Franck, Respire could have delivered more.

To watch the movie on TV5MONDE Asie-Pacifique, please click
here for filming schedule. The article was originally published on French Cinema Review, a blog dedicated to French Cinema, written and curated by Judith Prescott.
 
I have worked as a journalist for 24 years both in London, England and now in Paris, France. I was a broadcast journalist for the English service of Radio France Internationale in Paris for 17 years before leaving to set up a blog for French cinema fans everywhere. I also worked as a reviewer of French films for The Hollywood Reporter and was a jury member for the Prix Michel d'Ornano at the Festival of American Films at Deauville. I am passionate about French films, both old and new, and want to share this passion with filmgoers around the globe.

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