I Am Breathing (R13)

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Review byMatthew Turner22/06/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 72 mins

Powerful, deeply upsetting documentary with a commendable no-holds-barred approach from both the filmmakers and their subject.

What's it all about?
Directed by Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon, I Am Breathing is a documentary charting the final months of Scottish architect Neil Platt, who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in 2008 at the age of 33. As his condition worsens, Neil knows that his time is running out, so he uses his blog – Plattitude – to both raise awareness of his condition and to say goodbye to his wife Louise and their one year old son Oscar.

As the film progresses, Neil finds physical communication increasingly difficult and announces his decision to have his ventilator turned off if he reaches the point where he can no longer swallow or speak. At the same time, he busies himself with putting together a Memory Box for Oscar and writing him a letter, which triggers reminiscences of his life and in particular his relationship with Louise.

The Good
The film tells Neil's story through a combination of actors (in voiceover) reading from his blog or letters, to-camera pieces with Neil or his wife Louise and general fly-on-the-wall footage shot within Neil's home. This is interspersed with home movie footage from a time before his illness, photographs and various other inserts, particularly when Neil assembles the Memory Box items.

Though the decision to commission a documentary isn't covered within the film (although that process itself might have been interesting), Neil allows co-directors McKinnon and Davie (both apparently friends from student days) access to some extraordinarily intimate moments and it's clear that nothing is off limits; indeed, late in the film there is a heart-breaking moment where he is stuggling for every breath and as the camera turns away, Neil signals to insist that they keep filming.

The Great
A caption from Neil at the beginning of the film promises ‘a tale of fun and laughs with a smattering of upset and devastation’ and while it certainly makes good on the latter half of that promise, there is also a fair amount of dark humour too, notably when Neil relates a story about trying to cancel his phone service (‘What's your reason for leaving?’, ‘I'm dying – I've got three months to live.’, ‘It's just that we've got some really good deals at the moment...’) or the fact that even dying of a terminal disease, no-one is ever safe from their mother bringing out the embarrassing baby photos.

Despite the film's seemingly no-holds-barred approach, there is one subject that it apparently shies away from: Neil notes early on that his father died of the same thing (though much later), but his letter to Oscar makes no reference to the fact that the disease could be hereditary.

Worth seeing?
I Am Breathing is a powerfully emotional, thought-provoking and deeply intimate documentary that stands as a heartfelt testament to the human spirit and will have you calling your loved ones immediately afterwards. Recommended.

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I Am Breathing (R13)
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Content updated: 23/02/2020 02:21

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