Saturday, September 13, 2014

TIFF 2014: Breathe

Breathe (Respire) (France, 2014) directed by Mélanie Laurent, 91 minutes, Scotiabank 9, 9.15a

The mean girl preying on the innocent good girl is by now a staple of modern cinema and drama. Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' 1792 novel Les Liaisons dangereuses any one?

Seventeen year old Charlie (Joséphine Japy), a moderately unhappy highschool student whose parents are separating, is soon enraptured by a new student - the pretty and provocative Sarah (Lou deLaâge) and her tales of life in Africa where her mother supposedly works in an NGO.

Sarah has all the cliched cinematic hallmarks of a bad girl - sexy clothes and demeanor, inappropriate behavior, provocative language, an attractively defiant attitude. She quickly draws Charlie away from her best friend Victoire. She charms adults and Charlie's friends. They share secrets and cigarettes and intimacy - dancing, sharing clothes, smoking up, talking about boys.

The unsavory change in Sarah's behavior is telegraphed many scenes before. When Charlie rebels in any manner against Sarah and learns an unpleasant secret about Sarah's family, Sarah begins a campaign of intimidation. She begins to covet Charlie's mom's love interest, reveals her secrets to Charlie's friends, taunts and humiliates her. 

This escalates into vicious rumours, verbal bullying, open harassment, physically roughing up Charlie, and, endless phone calls to her cell phone. The script, also written by the actor/director Melanie Laurent best known for her role in Inglourious Basterds, does not chart new territory here.

Even if Sarah appears the prototypical mean girl gone sociopath, the film is redeemed by Sarah's response. It is unexpected and brutal although not wholly surprising. Talk about girls gone wild ...

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