Breathe In is a beautifully flawed introduction to the 66th annual Edinburgh International Film Festival serving as its opening gala film and the European premiere of this film.
Breathe In is a tale of a middle-aged cellist and family patriarch played by Guy Pearce and the development of his affair with a high school exchange student, portrayed by an alluring Felicity Jones. Pearce, full of bohemian ideals, becomes increasingly frustrated with his current, bourgeois, American suburban existence. His frustration is only magnified by his desire to return to America’s bohemian and creative center, New York City, from which he resides ninety minutes upstate. These ideals become progressively more significant upon the arrival of a talented concert pianist and exchange student from the UK: Felicity Jones. Jones awakens deep feelings of idealism within Pearce of a life he desires to lead but which was altered by the preemptive birth of his daughter, and thus her presence challenges family dynamics. Using this the film attempts to ask: ‘what is freedom?’, and tries to uncover the effect of boundaries, handsomely demonstrated first by the film’s opening scene in which his family poses for an annual portrait with cinematography hued in cool blues and beige. Pearce is framed within a seemingly perfect family unit and desires to be a part of anything but. Ultimately, the film examines the breaking point of the family unit and the disintegration of a superficially ideal home, which includes Pearce’s vulnerable wife and daughter played by Mackenzie Davis and Amy Ryan.
Film festival director Chris Fujiwara of EIFF has an aim to bring indie global and cinephile cinema to audiences in Scotland in its cultural hub, Edinburgh. Breathe In played at the highly regarded Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah earlier this year in which another film from director Drake Doremus, Like Crazy, also starring Felicity Jones won the festival’s dramatic grand jury prize in 2011.
Doremus is an up and coming auteur exploring recurring themes like the strains of fidelity with a knack at pinpointing subtle emotional tremors on delicate personal landscapes. And in similar fashion to Like Crazy much of what works in this film is dependent on the actors and their improvisation skills. Doremus and co-screenwriter Ben York Jones wrote a detailed outline for each scene without dialogue and rehearsed with the cast for weeks whilst they improvised verse. However, intimate moments from typically hand-held camera work are lost as Doremus chooses a steadier, cleaner style for Breathe In.
Although the film is centered on the act of adultery that Doremus so aptly explores, the expected eroticism is surprisingly underplayed by Jones and Pearce. Their flirtations never reach fruition and although there is palpable sexual tension between the leads it is hardly the overt sexuality expected from a film dissecting the subject of infidelity. Music instead replaces sex and the touching of hands on the piano or a glance across the dinner table becomes more telling than any bedroom scene would be.
Although not a film solely about music, music is most definitely in the background of Breathe In. Some of the best scenes within the film are ones in which music is heavily involved. One of the film’s most poignant scenes is one in which Pearce plays a heavily dramatic cello piece on stage at the climax of the film, and a shared moment at the piano between Pearce and Jones that instigates the affair.
In comparison to the closing gala film, Not Another Happy Ending, loud and full of proud Scottish nationalism, this film was understated, beautifully subtle, and elegant. It is also a film more to true to the vision of the Edinburgh Film Festival and its devotion to artistically poignant international cinema.
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