With the syrupy and bubbly Nitin Sawhney score and Robert Richardson’s Hallmark card cinematography, it was almost enough to dismiss Breathe as another one of those feel-good, manipulative tear-jerker. But I was wrong. Yes, it is a feel-good manipulative tear-jerker, but one fuelled by a cast of subtle players, and the joyful direction by Andy Serkis (yes, that Andy Serkis, the Gollum Andy Serkis from The Lord of the rings trilogy) in his debut as director. Breathe stars Andrew Garfield as Robin Cavendish. In 1958, at only 28, Robin was diagnosed with polio. Claire Foy (TV’s The crown) plays Robin’s wife, Diana. The early scenes shows Robin, a vibrant young man, being overtaken suddenly by the disease. It can happen to anybody. Robin Cavendish was paralyzed, unable to breathe on his own and was only kept alive with the help of a respirator. Beside the opening scenes and a few dream sequences, Garfield is immobile from the neck down for the remainder of the film, playing only with his head. At first, Cavendish was told that he only three months to live, and that he would have to spend his last days in a hospital bed. But when Diana saw that her husband had fallen into a deep depression and that he refused to see their newborn son (Jonathan Cavendish is producing Breathe), she decided to bring him home. The doctors warned her that she would not be able to manage. But Diana did manage and Robin Cavendish died in 1994 when he was 64. Furthermore, with his friend Oxford University professor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), Cavendish developed a wheelchair with a built-in respirator. They build more wheelchairs and made available to other polio patients, insuring their independence and a better quality of life. Andrew Garfield’s performance is more than a tour-de-force. Well, it is a tour-de-force, but throughout the film, Garfield is very careful to never overplay the dramatic situations. This is a film of survivals. I think that Claire Foy is even more restrained. We never know what Diana is thinking, but oh boy, if you tell her what to do, she’ll stay silent, then do what she wants, what she feels is right. Diana Cavendish must have been quite a lady. The other player of note is Tom Hollander as Diana’s twin brothers, Bloggs and David Blacker. With the help of excellent special effects, Hollander is duplicated on the screen for most of his scenes. I first thought that the twins were played by real twin actors, but I was surprised to find out that it was Hollander alone. There is a scene that best define what the film is about. The family is traveling to Spain when the respirator’s motor blows up. The truck has stopped on a country road, and Robin is given air through a manual respirator, while they are waiting for Professor Hall to fly to Spain and fix the broken respirator. By the time of Hall’s arrival, a crowd has gathered around Robin and his family. There are tables full of food and wine, musicians, people are singing and dancing. When the respirator is repaired, the crowd applaud. This is a fiesta. A celebration of life.
Rated Parental Guidance