I don’t want to oversell Melanie Laurent’s brilliant psychological thriller Breathe (Respire). It’s 85 minutes of cinematic perfection. There isn’t one bad scene or false moment. It’s a slow-burn first two acts which give way to some shattering developments by the finale. I wasn’t prepared for this film, how emotionally hard-hitting it would be, or for how stylish on a cinematic level it would get. This is a gorgeous film that was shot with a painter’s eye; cinematographer Arnaud Potier is now firmly on my radar. Released in France in 2014 and based on the novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme, Laurent and Julien Lambroschini handled the scripting adaptation, and while I can’t claim to be familiar with the source material, what they’ve put on screen is piercing, troubling, sexy, and fascinating on numerous levels. Starring Joséphine Japy and Lou de Laâge as two high school seniors who unexpectedly fall into each other’s orbits, the film operates as a smart and savvy mix of Blue is the Warmest Color and Fatal Attraction, and because of how delicate the entire piece is, I’m reluctant to reveal much more about the plot. What I will allow is that Laurent’s film is thematically rich, poking at the social norms and constructs of the modern high school setting, the many layers of friendship, obsession, and emerging sexuality, while toying with preconceived genre expectations in all the best ways. The two lead performances are tremendous, totally different from one another, and dependent on each other’s abilities in ways that two-handers like this really need to pounce on. Supporting performances are all top notch, there’s a Malick-esque vibe to some of Potier’s striking visuals along with some expertly judged stedicam work and slow-motion techniques, and the final scene is one that you’ll never, ever forget. Had I seen this film during the year of its initial release, it probably makes my top 15. Breathe is available as a DVD rental via Netflix and as a streaming option on Amazon.


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