EIFF 2013: ‘I Am Breathing’ review

A documentary every bit as humorous and uplifting as it is tragic and melancholic, Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon’s I Am Breathing (2013) – which screens at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival ahead of a limited theatrical release – follows the final few months and weeks in the life of 34-year-old Neil Platt, who succumbed to Motor Neurone Disease in 2009. An undoubted ‘glass is half-full’ sort of guy, Platt busies himself with a popular online blog and compiling a keep-sake for his infant son Oscar, whilst he and his wife are inevitably forced to face up to the reality of Neil’s impending death at the hands of his affliction.

Witty, erudite and contemplative, Platt comes across as an extremely affable individual, pouring his last ounces of energy into raising public awareness of his debilitating condition. Blending captured footage of Platt with nostalgic home videos from his past, Davie and McKinnon paint a favourable portrait of a devoted father and loving husband. That’s not to say, however, that we’re restricted from seeing Neil hit rock bottom – at one stage he loses his temper over his seldom-shifting view of the outside world, unable as he is to move without the aid of spouse Louise. Be warned: those looking for a candy-coated treatment of terminal illness should look elsewhere, as I Am Breathing rightly pulls few punches towards the end.

During one of several meditations on the ‘bigger picture’, a bed-bound Platt hypothesises that it’s humanity’s ability to adapt in the face of extreme adversity that defines us as a species. “It’s amazing how adaptable we are when we have to be. It’s what separates us and defines us as human beings”, he muses. This theory is validated further by the care and support provided by wife Louise, who has to manage her time between tending to both Neil and the intrepid, one-year-old Oscar. Remarkably, she always has a smile for her courageous partner, even in his darkest hours.

Though its cinematic credentials may be questionable, Davie and McKinnon’s I Am Breathing remains a moving depiction of one dying soul’s final throws, presented with little of the melodramatic bombast we’ve come to expect from more saccharine documentaries of its ilk. As you’d expect, Platt is unarguably the film’s shining light – a good-humoured, deeply sensitive character whose departing sentiments are both touching and profound in equal measure. Thankfully, his joie de vivre will now live on for years to come.

The 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 19-30 June, 2013. For more of our EIFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.

Daniel Green

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