EIFF: Andy Serkis’ Directorial Debut ‘Breathe’ Will Tear at Your Heartstrings

Breathe is a moving piece of storytelling that is able to snatch up its viewers within the last two acts. The first, feels like a sloppily edited chapter that reveals way too little about a character we’re supposed to feel empathetic towards. As the movie straggles along with charming British demeanour and jokes, the humanity of the piece is fleshed out in a stunning fashion. Towards the end, you’ll really believe the struggles that the characters have gone through, thanks to the performances of Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy.

Andrew Garfield plays Robin Cavendish, a man diagnosed with Polio at a young age. He wants to reach outside of his limits and see the world once again rather than staying in his hospital “prison” ward. It’ll be shocking if he doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination because his performance hits you hard throughout the movie. One particular moment is when Robin sees his son for the first time. You can see the frustration in his eyes within his soulless body, but at the same time, there is a stir that resembles joy. It’s a bittersweet moment, and it is beautifully illustrated. Claire Foy plays Robin’s wife, Diana. Much like Garfield, she brings her A-game as she transforms into Robin’s pain-stricken wife who is also willing to try to plow through whatever circumstances to make sure their life can remain the same. Garfield and Foy’s chemistry, especially towards the end, is very believable, as you can tell that they truly care about each other.

You may not have known, but Andy Serkis, the actor most known for his motion capture performances in The Lord of the Rings and the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy, was in the director’s chair for this movie. For a first time effort, he did a great job. During the most important scenes of the film, his direction leads to impeccable timing with line deliveries and great execution with silent breaks for an uneasy mood. The cinematographer, Robert Richardson, was able to capture the English countryside and sandy Spain in a stunning light with well lit composition, but at the same time, brought the right amount of darker visual overtones to Robin’s bleakest moments. The spectacular set design by Sara Wan helps you dive into the three decades that this film is set in, from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. One particular stunning location was a tent from an expedition in Africa. It was filled to the brim with personality and objects to observe throughout the space. Breathe is the kind of movie you will want to pause continuously when it is released on home video in order to fully appreciate its set design.

Oddly enough, Breathe can be considered a comedy of sorts. Going to a movie about a man with polio, gripping with his reality and trying to overcome it, doesn’t exactly sound hilarious, but Serkis allows plenty of British humour seep in to add hilarity to the film. There’s a wonderful British sensibility present that has characters make light out of a bad situation. That levity is what carries this film and Andrew Garfield’s character is so charming on screen, despite the few emotions he can show on his face.

What spoils the movie is the soulless soundtrack that sounds way too schmaltzy for a piece like this. It sounded too generically happy or sad, and it felt incredibly forced. The ending is also one of the films lesser achievements because instead of going with a bold and far more melancholy ending that would have left an impact, the filmmakers decided to include a montage of the events that happened earlier on in the film, along with a reel of the real Robin Cavendish before explaining what happened to certain people in the story. It’s corny, and ruins the potential impact that Breathe could have left on audiences.

It also feels like the filmmakers shaved off twenty minutes of the film at the beginning. In a frustrating manner, Breathe rushes through Robin’s life before he was paralyzed from polio. So when Robin is finally diagnosed and paralyzed, it doesn’t sting as much as it should to the viewer. We aren’t invested in Robin and Diana’s relationship yet and we don’t know why Robin is such a likeable character at this point in the movie.

Breathe fails to make an impact with its opening moments, but as the movie carries on, you will grow attached to this family affected by polio. Andrew Garfield gives an effective performance as the paralyzed Robin, the cinematography is spectacular with a backdrop of immaculate sets, and the occasional breaks of comedy really drive the movie forward. Andy Serkis has a promising future in directing ahead of him.

Grade: B

(Featured Image: Breathe, Bleecker Street)

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