Breathe (2014): A Review

To survive, it needs another plant in its close proximity. ” - Breathe (2014)

Breathe, the second film made by French actress and director Mélanie Laurent, paints a stunningly realistic and frightening portrait of the ins and outs of an abusive relationship.
The film differs in the sense that it observes an abusive romantic relationship from the lens of a toxic female friendship.

The film was adapted from the popular French novel of the same name. The book and film follow Charlie, a mildly popular, shy, French high school girl.
Charlie befriends the cool, exciting new girl at school who becomes a cool older sister figure. The new girl, named Sarah, is somehow always sexier, relaxed, funnier and cooler than she. The two become inseparable and Charle is so consumed by the friendship that she completely isolates herself.

Once Sarah senses this attachment, she captures Charlie in an intricately designed, alluring yet narcissistic, self-serving web.

We, as spectators, quickly come to realize that Sarah is a sociopath. Here's what's so frightening: we remain intrigued by her unpredictable whims.  

Sarah is both a monster and a femme fatale; she wins over, seduces, and humiliates at her convenience. People are a meaningless ploy that she uses for her own benefit, a sole means of elevating her ego and making her feel good about herself.

Respire has a clear villain, and that villain is Sarah. However, Sarah is far from a stereotypical movie villain-- she is so realistic that it's scary.

She's comparable to real life abusers in her unsettling allure, charm, and friendliness and their facade. When the mask slips and her true face is shown, a narcissistic, arrogant, cold, calculating, and opportunistic woman is revealed.

What makes Breathe such a masterful film and such an intense watch from beginning to end is that it does an excellent job at showing the dynamics of an abusive relationship.

Sarah has purposefully assured herself as much power over Charlie as possible by isolating her, forcing her into dependence.

There is initially no problem because the two are as thick as thieves. Things shift, though, as Sarah becomes bored of Charlie and seeks attention elsewhere. She begins to blatantly ignore and even bully Sarah, gossiping about her with other girls and going behind her back.

All abuse Charlie receives from Sarah is emotional, except for one instance. When the two girls drunkenly kiss while out camping, Sarah slaps Charlie, only to laugh in her face.

This emotional abuse is often hard for Sarah to run away from because it's so subtle and therefore hard to identify. It's the little things, like how the way you laugh can offend someone. It's the clearly mocking tone in a comment and the furthered distortion of the truth.

Objectively, it might seem like a small, insignificant act. It can, however, possess the power to mentally destabilize someone and ruin their life if they remain unwilling and unable to see the truth, or if they are not offered a final push to leave an abusive relationship. Breathe shows this in a truly harrowing conclusion.

On a parallel level, Charlie's mother is in a similar situation with Charlie's father. Though he is emotionally abusive, she won't leave him because he doesn't hit her.

It shows something interesting: sometimes, we're unable to leave these toxic relationships because we cannot precisely lay our finger on what's wrong.

We can't exactly explain what that person has done to us. The wounds of emotional abuse hurt just as much, but they don't leave a visible mark, and surely the fact that someone is occasionally mean and that we feel bad in their company isn't enough, is it?

The power Sarah has over Charlie is shown symbolically by giving Sarah more physical power than Charlie. Charlie has asthma, and as the abuse deepens, her condition worsens.

There's a quote in the film that best describes the relationship: "To survive, it needs another plant in its close proximity." Sarah feeds on Charlie, sucking out her energy and lust for life and giving nothing in return.

It's the two central performances that make the film, and both actresses complement each other perfectly. Sarah (Lou de Laâge) is a hurricane-esque force of nature, sweeping up everything in her way. The quiet Charlie (Joséphine Japy ) slowly gravitates towards the center of the hurricane.

Both performances are equally strong, while only one is seemingly at the forefront. The other, though in the background, is brilliantly captured by Japy.

This sense of being in the background is reflective of real life abuse as well. The oppressor will try to push the victim down, reducing them to nothing but a mere shadow.

The unsettling tone of Breathe is achieved through the film's utilization of dark, somber colors. At times, dark clouds fill the screen. Paired with Charlie's inability to breathe, these qualities create a highly claustrophobic atmosphere.

“I gave you everything . . . but you judge and think you deserve better.”

By Ayla Van Damme