Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Movie Review: Just a Breath Away

Just a Breath Away ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Daniel Roby.
Written by: Guillaume Lemans and Jimmy Bemon & Mathieu Delozier.
Starring: Romain Duris (Mathieu), Olga Kurylenko (Anna), Fantine Harduin (Sarah), Michel Robin (Lucien), Anna Gaylor (Colette), Réphaël Ghrenassia (Noé), Erja Malatier (Charlotte).
You get the sense as you watch Just a Breath Away that the filmmakers are trying to pull out all the stops in order to get you emotionally involved in what is, if you think about it, a really silly movie. But give them credit I guess – because for the most part, it works. It probably shouldn’t work – and if you think about the movie, it probably doesn’t. But as you watch the film, it really does seem to do what it wants. It keeps you involved for 90 minutes – and emotionally invested, even if you know precisely what will happen.
Basically, what happens in the film is that an Earthquake of some kid rocks Paris, and unleashes a kind of mist or gas. The mist only goes up so high however – so if you’re on the upper floors of an apartment building, you are still above the gas – at for now (it’s rising, of course). If you breath in the gas, you die – and pretty damn quickly. As with all movies such as this, the film starts with what is undeniably thousands – and perhaps even millions (we do not know how far reaching the gas goes) dying in the initial attack, but we’re focused on just one family in the midst of that attack. Mathieu and Anna (Romain Duris and Olga Kurylenko) are the parents of Sarah (Fantine Harduin) – who like a growing number of kids around the world, have developed a new disease of some sort that makes them sensitive to their surroundings. So sensitive in fact that they have to be confined to their sterile bubble in their homes. These bubbles need electricity to run – which of course has been short circuited by the gas attack. For now, Sarah is okay – they have a seemingly endless supply of batteries, although those need to be changed frequently. It’s even worse for her, because while Mathieu and Anna have taken shelter with the elderly couple upstairs, their own apartment –with Sarah’s bubble – is covered in gas. As long as the bubble works, she’s safe. But how long can that last?
Wisely, the movie doesn’t really spend all that much time trying to figure out what the gas is, where it came from, or why. When you have a giant gas cloud that can killed people, and has engulfed at least one major city, no real explanation is going to make sense, so it’s better to accept the premise, and move on – and that’s what the film does. The film also makes the most of the gas attack for ratcheting up the tension and the visuals- as long as you have a gas mask, you can head out into the gas. So there are lots of shots of Mathieu, Anna or both of them running through the gas in the chaos of streets, where of course, they cannot see too far in front of them. And the even creepier visuals are those with Mathieu on the balcony or the roof of the building – that gas hovering just below them. Does it make much sense? No – but visually, it works.
If you’ve read this far, you can probably guess what is going to happen in Just a Breath Away – and you would more than likely be correct. There are lots of scenes of frantically have to change Sarah’s battery – scenes of people running out of air in the gas masks, or having their lines cut – and having to go out in the gas anyway and try and hold their breath. There is a little – although not much – of the chaos that such an attack may inspire, and a feeling that man, of course, is the real bad guy. Here, the lower budget may have hurt the film a little – there isn’t a lot in the ways of extras, and really only one cop who seems to be handling things poorly. The scope of this film is very narrow – too narrow really considering the size of the attack.
Yet for all of its flaws, the film pretty much works as you’re watching it. Yes, it’s kind of silly – and the longer the dialogue scenes go, the more the film drags. But when the film is out on the streets, in those action sequences, it basically works. And I like to imagine that the elderly couple upstairs was living their own happy-go-lucky version of Haneke’s Amour even before the gas came along (Michel Robin is very good as the old man). It’s not a film you’re likely to remember for very long, but for its modest ambitions, it gets the job done.

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