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British Film Review: I Am Breathing
Film Review By Freda Cooper
Neil Platt is 34. He’s bright, articulate, with a good career as an architect and a happy family life with his wife and adorable year-old son. To the outside world, he has everything. But when we meet him, he has something else. Motor Neurone Disease.
I Am Breathing is the story of the last few months of his life. Neil writes a blog, where he considers the questions he has, as he wryly observes, plenty of time on his hands to consider. He puts together a long letter and a memory box for his son, Oscar, so that he will have some sense of his father and what he did during his life.
And that is the essence of the documentary. Familiarity with the computerised tones of Stephen Hawking probably means most of us believe that we have some understanding of MND. But Neil shows us the other, less public side. He’s just an ordinary guy who’s been dealt a cruel hand and, together with his wife and family, has to deal with it as best he can. In the space of twelve months, he is transformed from a healthy young father to being paralysed from the neck down and breathing through a ventilator.
It’s filmed mainly in fly-on-the-wall style, which echoes the spontaneity of the family videos that form part of Neil’s memories. But we are also drawn closer into his last months by a combination of pieces direct to camera and, perhaps most tellingly, scenes filmed from his eye level. The role of narrator is played by his blog, connecting the elements of the story as well as increasing our understanding of both the man and the disease. He is startlingly honest and humorous, determined to share his last months as much as he can through his blog and, while occasionally sad, there’s never a hint of self-pity. Only towards the very end do we see a flash of anger.
The combination of Neil’s refreshing honesty and the film’s own simple, direct style prevents 'I Am Breathing' from even getting close to sentimentality. And, despite being an intimate portrait of decline and approaching death, it never feels intrusive or insensitive. Instead, it’s tender, moving, heartbreaking and inspiring.
The final scene shows some of the objects Neil put in his memory box for Oscar. But there’s one item it doesn’t show and without which the box would be incomplete. The film itself.
The makers of I Am Breathing aim to hold 100 screenings of the film around the world on Motor Neurone Disease Global Awareness Day on Friday, 21 June. To find your local screening, go to www.iambreathingfilm.com.
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