Breathe In Review
Breathe In begins with a family in upstate New York posing for a photograph, Keith (Guy Pearce), Megan (Amy Ryan) and Lauren Reynolds (Mackenzie Davis), father, mother, daughter, smiling for the camera. A happy family. It's not until the very end of Drake Doremus's film that this scene takes on a different perspective. How strong is this family and are the smiles really just a brave face against the world?
Doremus and his co-writer Ben York Jones tell a familiar story, but they do tell it well for the most part. At the centre of it is Keith, an early career as an indie rocker coming to nothing, but now working as a college music teacher with the possibility of a place as an orchestra cellist. With the arrival of English exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones, who played the lead in Doremus's previous feature Like Crazy), a talented pianist, the equilibrium of the family is upset. As Sophie settles in with the Reynoldses and Lauren's circle of college friends, she and Keith become closer. Keith wonders if he has found a soulmate his daughter's age...and knows he is playing with fire but still does it.
Breathe In doesn't go in entirely expected directions, although there are some melodramatic turns in the last twenty minutes. However, up to then this is a film of observations and nuances, kept quite low-key. Much of the dialogue was improvised by the cast, who are first-rate. Pearce is the standout, but Jones makes a fine account of a character who is for much of the film intentionally inscrutable. We know quite little about her, other than the information she vouchsafes, but thanks to Jones's performance she is quite convincing. Ryan and Davis are also good, though the latter has to negotiate the more melodramatic parts of the storyline. Doremus keeps his direction loose, largely due to letting the cast have their head, with much handheld work and a few jump cuts.
Ultimately Breathe In isn't life-changing but you will be glad you saw it. It does simple things well, which is harder than it sounds.
Breathe In is distributed by Curzon Film World on both DVD and Blu-ray. It was the former which was supplied for review, and comments and affiliate links refer to that edition. For affiliate links for the Blu-ray, go here. The DVD is dual-layered and encoded for Region 2 only. It begins with the familiar ad for Curzon Home Cinema.
Shot digitally on the Arri Alexa with anamorphic lenses, Breathe In gets a DVD transfer in the ratio of 2.40:1, widescreen-enhanced. John Gulesarian's cinematography has intentionally muted colours. I didn't see Breathe In in the cinema, but I have no reason to doubt that this is intentional. This is a solid transfer, as you would expect from a new feature that has existed entirely in the digital realm from start to finish (though apparently 35mm prints were in circulation as well as DCPs).
The low-key approach extends to the soundtrack, as I had to turn the volume up a little at first. This English-language film has Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround (2.0) soundtracks. There is very little difference between them, as this isn't the most elaborate of mixes, with the surrounds mainly used for music and ambience. The subwoofer mostly gets time off, as cellos and pianos are not normally noted for their big low ends. As you would expect, though regret, there are no English hard-of-hearing subtitles available.
The main extras is an interview with Drake Doremus and Felicity Jones (11:48), with a poster for Breathe In on screen right. Doremus does most of the talking at first, with Jones sitting poker-faced to his left, but she warms up as she contributes to the interview as they discuss the origins of the film and the filmmaking methods. Guy Pearce turns out to have been the most uncomfortable at improvising. Also on the disc is the theatrical trailer (2:33).