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Review: Keep Breathing

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Premise:

A woman gets stuck in a lift with the engineer that’s fixing it, only to discover it’s the man she had a one-night-stand with just a few weeks before. As the awkwardness manifests, it becomes clear they both have very different interpretations of the events that unfolded that night.



Review:

To say that the topic of sexual consent can invoke reactions from the contentious to the downright incendiary is perhaps one of our more egregious understatements. The #metoo movement thrust this subject into a much-needed spotlight, highlighting for the first time the near society-wide, systemic harassment of women.


What also started to become visible, was a less predatory but in some ways more insidious issue; namely the existence of blind spots in sexual consent among men who would never categorise themselves as people who would commit sexual assault or ignore the wishes of women. This is an area that Keep Breathing takes on the challenge of exploring.


Opening with an introduction to our male lead, a lift engineer played by Damien Molony, we are introduced to an affable, friendly and likable guy. The film uses visual and character cues that encourage the audience to empathise and identify with him before the main body of the story begins. Simultaneously, we are introduced to our female lead and the bearer of the thematic core of the film played by Emmeline Hartley. Using the same visual methods, the topic of men blindly crossing the line into female personal space without permission (and ignoring cues that they have done so) is established from the beginning.


The set up sees Hartley’s character as an employee in the building where Molony’s lift engineer is making repairs. Having believed himself to be successful he gets onto the lift followed by Hartley, at which point it is revealed that the two of them had a one night stand a couple of weeks prior. After an awkward exchange of pleasantries, the lift breaks down trapping them inside. At this point we gear shift into the crux of the movie, which traps and forces us to confront the uncomfortable conversation that both characters (and in many cases we, the audience) have avoided confronting.


Director Mark Corden works in tandem with DP Beatriz Delgado Mena to employ striking cinematic styles that work brilliantly not just in reflecting the characters’ state of mind but also in servicing one of the key themes of the story, perspective and recollection. As soon as Hartley’s character realises that she is stuck in the lift with a man she does not want to see again, we jump to wide angle close-ups, emphasising the claustrophobia. The uneasy handheld camerawork and the female character framed to make her look small, over the shoulder of Molony’s male character looming large in frame is paired brilliantly with Molony’s reassuring and comforting performance. The combination makes him feel threatening even as he is trying to help. The moment underscores the point of the film as we see the intrusion that he keeps missing.


The storytelling structure utilises flashbacks but rather than a simplistic ‘fill in the blanks’ methodology, both script and filming style work in tandem to use the flashbacks as a means of highlighting the differences of how each party remembers the same event. Plunging us through the lift wall and back to the contentious night in question, Corden demonstrates his ability to fuse multiple styles into a singular visual journey without giving the audience tonal whiplash.


As we bounce between the past and the present, we see their one-night stand unfold, slowly revealing the key moments that begin with a couple discovering chemistry with each other on a night out and end up leading to a sexual encounter that one wanted and the other did not, highlighting all of the missed or ignored communication that got them there. This framing device serves the dramatic two-hander that comprises the bulk of the film and the core of the conversation. With the film depending largely on the interplay between two characters, it is well served by the performances of Damien Molony and Emmeline Hartley (who pulls triple duties as the film’s producer and co-writer).


Both actors do a fantastic job of controlling the tone, tenor and intensity of their dialogue and by extension, that of the film itself. Director Mark Corden and editor Drew Davis wisely allow the performances to set the pace, applying a cutting style that enhances the frenetic, tense and at times terrifying exchange. The resulting drama dives headlong into issues of communication, signals, feelings of obligation or guilt and the plethora of confusing and complex dynamics weaved into their fateful night.


Screenwriters Mark Corden, Emmeline Hartley and Tommy Draper are clear about the morality of the issue but place greater emphasis on education rather than accusation. As a result, we get a well-crafted, stylistic and tense drama that more than proves its worth as a film experience but also expertly wields the talents and craft of its cast and crew to educate (and validate) its audience. This is an arresting film as stunning and as it is important.


Studio: BFI Network/Genera Films/Siskamedia | Year: 2019 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 17 Mins | Suitability: Mature


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