Charlie (Josephine Japy) lives in a household demarcated by fighting parents. She hears her mother sob at night. At school, she becomes quietly fascinated by new student Sarah (Lou de Laage). Sarah is more impulsive, more charismatic than Charlie. They are foils, and yet their chemistry is instantaneous.
Their relationship grows when they vacation together, but it grows toward the realm of the complicated. Lines are grayed. And all the while, Charlie’s mother is using the vacation as a means of sexual catharsis.
The movie is quiet. Almost too quiet. It meanders around the corners of its narrative arc, probing the audience to be eager for more but almost always restricting access to what the audience wants.
This delayed gratification is almost too much, and, to make matters of narrative motion worse, the technique of slow motion is overused throughout this film.
Eventually, we see Sarah’s insecurities rise to the forefront, and they begin taking an emotional toll on Charlie. This then turns, with one glorious panning shot, into a film about identity formation through lies.
At first, this shift plays as a teenage melodrama, which is rather disappointing. Charlie’s school life becomes plagued with backhanded bullying. It almost feels, in the worst of moments, like an after school special.
Certain instances of the film are simply majestic, like the previously mentioned panning shot and a low angle shot of Charlie looking up during an asthma attack. But, overall, the middle of this film leaves much to be desired. The parallel relationships between mother and daughter during this portion of the film is quietly fascinating, but it is buried in the subtext.
What we do get consistently throughout the film is a tour de force performance from Josephine Japy. Her destruction is seen only in the eyes. It is breathtaking to behold, from start to finish.
A heightened middle would have done the film some good, but, at the same time, this delayed gratification leads to one of the most shocking final minutes of any film I’ve seen this year. With this sagging middle, the climax truly comes out of nowhere in the best possible way. The only issue is getting to this point of the film given its dwindling middle. Respire is definitely a movie that you have to be patient with.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Respire? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!