Breathe: The Slow and Steady Rush, by Scott Nye
Breathe, Melanie Laurent’s second feature, takes an external, incisive view of how small slights can create massive barriers between people. Charlie (Josephine Japy) is what any logline would describe to be an “average” teenage girl. She has her group of friends, gets good grades in school, and has much to celebrate and anticipate as she nears the end of high school, even as her parents are nearing divorce, an event she unsuccessfully attempts to position herself apart from. Enter Sarah (Lou De Laage), a worldly, overconfident new student who rushes into Charlie’s life, quickly becoming her new best friend and, practically, roommate.
The latter is due to a situation at home that Sarah paints as unstable, but little more than an annoyance. In the meantime, Sarah and Charlie take to one another for differing, but complementary, purposes. Charlie is relatively inexperienced – sexually, emotionally, culturally – and being around Sarah gives her the air of sophistication that the latter convincingly emits. Sarah, meanwhile, is granted a mentee of sorts, someone she can feel superior to while satisfying the needs of a close, personal relationship. Once Sarah accompanies Charlie and her mother to a seaside vacation, however, small tensions erupt, as neither is able to come out and say what the other means to them, perhaps for fear of seeming too dependent, or just for the common teenage sense of pride in needing to seem above natural jealousies.
Sarah is the more aggressive in this arena, pursuing other men in the resort area who have little active interest in her, but Charlie is equally complicit, her indifference to Sarah’s desires a series of barely-perceptible pinpricks that gradually work open some deep wounds. Unable to properly address their growing rift, Charlie clings to the increasingly-few moments in which their relationship reminds her of what it once was, and what she wants, before investigating for herself Sarah’s hidden home life, revealed (in a single masterful tracking shot) as a great deal more personal and volatile than she let on.
The quick escalation in Sarah’s retaliation, while it certainly has its basis in some of the more outrageous accounts you read online, might come off a little heightened and unbelievable if not for sheer emotional potency of it all. Adolescence is a daily struggle with banal circumstances that feel like the world is crashing down around you, and Laurent (adapting, alongside Julien Lambroschini, a novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme) isn’t afraid to literalize that emotion, giving her heightened circumstances credence by the acuteness of her smaller observations. As Charlie listens in on Sarah’s home life, a group of rowdy young men walk by. Charlie quickly tears herself away from her eavesdropping, avoiding the men who might loudly come onto her and draw Sarah’s attention. Laurent constructs her world as a series of outside forces assaulting Charlie, without letting her become a mere victim. One of the sadder facts of life is that we will all deeply hurt somebody by complete accident.