Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Breathe In

Last year I was introduced to Like Crazy, a Sundance darling from 2011 that portrayed the trials of a long distance relationship between a British girl and American Boy and won me over with it's powerful emotional core. The sole reason for my interest in that film was Felicity Jones, who had charmed me in schmalzy rom-com Chalet Girl. Today I watched another film solely because of Ms. Jones, one which I was surprised to later discover was the follow up film from the director of Like Crazy.

Breathe In
Drake Doremus // 2013 // 98 mins

Breathe In is the story of Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce), a music teacher who is tiring of the domestic life that he settled for when his wife got pregnant. He longs for the excitement of his former life; living in New York as a full-time musician, a sentiment not shared by his wife Megan (Amy Ryan) who is happy in her secure upstate lifestyle. The couple agree to house exchange student Sophie, played by Jones, who has transferred to the school that their daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) attends. Sophie's passion for music triggers a connection between her and Keith that develops into a romantic interest that threatens to break up family.

This is a film that takes its time. At only 98 minutes Breathe In is a relatively short film but it feels much longer, which is by no means a complaint. The story is a simple one that prioritises small moments and the subtle development of Keith and Sophie's bond over a complex, drama-laden plot. Their is no clich├ęd indications of love, or even lust, at first sight, no series of familiar encounters that lead to them realising that they are meant to be. Instead they share a genuine common interest that comes out in brief exchanges and moments of throwaway dialogue. Both of these people seem out of place amongst their peers, Sophie never seems to really bond on a significant level with anyone her own age and is seen by Keith as an 'old soul', while his desire to revitalise his life and pursue his passion is belittled by a disinterested wife and daughter. When their connection reaches boiling point and the pair act on their newfound feels it is not through a passionate, exploitative sex scene, it is through the smallest moment of physical contact while they enjoy their shared passion for music. These are not lust-filled adulterers who want to hurt those around them in a selfish way, they are just two people who recognise something in one another and want to explore what that could mean.

Anchoring the film are two stunning performances from Pearce and Jones. The chemistry between the two of them is palpable, making each stolen glance or smile feel genuinely loaded with the conflict of something that is as desirable as it is forbidden. They each bring an honesty and vulnerability to their respective characters that makes them extremely relatable and sympathetic. The beautiful cinematography also helps this as the use of a handheld style and preference for close-ups make for a much more intimate experience of the narrative, and provides an insight into the emotional depth of these two performances that is not afforded us by the dialogue. Where the film is less successful is in the construction of Keith's wife and daughter who are severely underwritten, to the point of becoming one-note villainous characters who are seen as somewhat deserving of their distress. Neither actress is given the opportunity or material to deliver performances that equal the leads, and this is a shame as more rounded supporting characters could have greatly improved the film by adding an extra layer to the plot and offering the opportunity to see the affair in a more disapproving light.

The final act of the film feels much more rushed than what precedes it, which leads to an unsatisfying lack of closure. Fortunately Breathe In features two wonderful, poignant performances from Pearce and Jones who make the relationship between their characters feel honest and natural. A beautiful score heightens the emotional impact of a narrative that favours subtlety and restraint over a more melodramatic portrayal of forbidden love. The plot is often predictable but is elevated by the talent of those who have brought it to life, making for a stunningly nuanced piece of filmmaking.

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