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BREATHE Mean Girls

BreatheDirected by Mélanie Laurent

Starring Joséphine Japy, Lou de Laâge, Isabelle Carré

This year has seen a run of films about young girls coming of age at Lotterywest Festival Films. Both Girlhood and The Wonder have covered this topic, and Breathe does so again. Yet all three have had a very different take on their subject matter, both in the themes they explore and the differing backgrounds of their subjects. Breathe is perhaps the most different of the three. Based on a bestselling French novel, it has the ability to surprise and at times shock the audience with the various twists this tale takes.

Charlie’s (Joséphine Japy) last year of school is disrupted, when a new girl, Sarah (Lou de Laâge) arrives in class. Charlie finds something fascinating in this new arrival. In part it is the exotic nature of her life, having spent years in Africa with her mum’s NGO. In part it is the confidence that she has, that allows her to make friends easily and to express herself and her wants to others. In part it is Sarah’s beauty. Soon a friendship forms between the two girls and they become extraordinarily close, sharing a summer together. But some careless words change things and Charlie starts to learn that Sarah is not all that she seems.

Breathe is very different to its predecessors. Whereas those coming of age films had at their core a tale about responsibility, Breathe is about passion: the manipulation of it to create power, the understanding of it to form love, and being lost utterly to it and becoming obsessed. Yet it also shows how it can be poisoned. How love and hate, friend and enemy, can have a very fine line separating the two states. Throw in the social environment of high school, the rush of teenage hormones, the thrill of new discovery and the confusion of youth and all bets are off.

This is a story told in a very compact style, with each scene being short and sharp, letting the audience fill in the necessary gaps. Given the powerful ending, it makes you question the reliability of the narrative and some of the assumptions made: how much we as an audience missed and what could be seen from a more neutral narrative perspective. Instead we are forced to trust Charlie as our point of view, seeing things through her eyes. From the first shots of her awaking to her parents arguing outside her room, to the final breathtaking shot of the film, we are with her. This gives us a beautiful insight into her, and why Charlie is how she is, and what makes her that way.

Joséphine Japy does a great job in this regard, able to convey a complex and often conflicted range of emotions with an economy of style., never feeling the urge to spell it out. By contrast Lou De Laâge is mercurial as Sarah, capable of being magnanimous or cruel, as the whim takes her.

A stunning film demonstrating the power of youthful passion for both good and ill, and is guaranteed to make you gasp.

 

DAVID O’CONNELL

 

Breathe screens at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, March 10, until Sunday, March 15, as part of Lotterywest Festival Films. For tickets and session times, go to perthfestival.com.au.