Acclaimed actress Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds, Enemy) takes the director’s chair for this high-school tale of two teenage girls who develop an intense — and potentially dangerous — friendship.
This film may leave some people reaching for comparisons with last year's Blue is the Warmest Colour, but actor-turned-director Mélanie Laurent has nevertheless stepped forward with a work that is singularly and entirely her own. Focusing on two schoolgirls who have developed an intensely possessive and symbiotic relationship, Laurent delves into the deep and sometimes dark connections that make such youthful relationships so quixotic and powerful. Without skipping a beat, she traverses the political spectrum of school corridors, lunchrooms, and playing fields, where status and friendship is manifest for all to see.
Respire focuses on two girls who, for different reasons, are clearly desirable friends in the school's social pecking order. Charlie (Joséphine Japy), an attractive, polite, and well-behaved seventeen-year-old, is immediately drawn to Sarah (Lou de Laâge), the new girl in school. With her unruly dirty-blonde hair and far more extroverted manner, Sarah is charming — and dangerous. The two become fast friends, sharing intimacies and secrets. All is right with the world — until, one day, their relationship starts to change.
What transpires gives this meticulously observed and quite disturbing film its heartbeat. Friends and family members are drawn into the drama of the girls' relationship. As so many artists have observed over the years, youth can be a brutally harsh and uncompromising period in one's life. It's little surprise that the hit French novel on which Respire is based was written when author Anne- Sophie Brasme was herself only seventeen.
As Charlie and Sarah struggle to find their own voices amidst the competition and angst of school, Laurent pulls no punches in detailing how an ideal teenage friendship can suddenly become a nightmare. But, with her careful direction, she avoids the trap of turning her material into pure melodrama. Instead, we watch mesmerized as investigates, realistically, the many layers of the story.