I Am Breathing

I Am Breathing is a truly affecting documentary about one extraordinary family living through the most difficult time in their lives together, documenting the final months of Neil Platt as Motor Neuron Disease paralyses him.

Director(s): Emma Davie, Morag McKinnon

Starring: Neil Platt

To meet such a man as Neil Platt on screen is a privilege, making one wonder if you could face his disease with such humor and dignity.
The direction at times attempts manipulation, a technique unwarranted in an already powerful piece.

I Am Breathing film Review

In one of the most intimate portrayals in recent memory, I Am Breathing is a truly affecting documentary about one extraordinary family living through the most difficult time in their lives together. Documenting the final months of Neil Platt as Motor Neuron Disease paralyses him, the film uses both touching observation and humour to truly do its subject justice.

Three years into his loving marriage and with a new baby boy, Neil Platt developed MND, a progressive disease affecting muscle control. Beginning with a walking stick and resulting in paralysis from the neck down, Neil’s worsening symptoms led to him beginning a blog in order to create awareness for his condition, and it is at this point that the documentary begins.

In a documentary of this type, it would be very easy for little more than sympathy to emerge, for Neil and his family. However, instead what resonates most is the enduring strength of the Platt household, as well as Neil’s terrific sense of humour and no-nonsense attitude. In an opening extract from Neil’s blog, he describes his story as “a tale of fun and laughs with a smattering of upset and devastation”, and no truer words could be said about this genuinely affecting film.

Despite his paralysis, Neil maintains the heart and soul of the film, imposing his overarching presence through voiceover and extracts from his blog, which is dictated by computer software that invariably fails him. Whilst it should be difficult to relate to his condition, the beauty of I Am Breathing is it’s ability to do just that, thanks in large part to Neil’s typically northern directness and humour. Tasks such as cancelling a phone contract are those which everyone can understand, and it is made all the more relatable by Neil’s approach to such things. Fusing the film’s unsophisticated filming stock with that of home video footage of Neil in healthier times gives a true sense of his life as a whole, instead of the recent years of illness, and provides touching moments of family gatherings and cherished memories that are a privilege to witness.

The same can be said of the sheer intimacy that the documentary has to offer. Being invited to see into every private moment of the Platt family as they go through this devastating time is something to embrace; from the touchingly observed moments of baby Oscar playing in his father’s lap, to the heroic efforts of Neil’s wife Louise in caring for her husband and child. Whilst it could be argued that as this is Neil’s story, the focus should rightly stay on him, there are brief instances in which Louise, as well as Neil’s mother, are all too briefly interviewed, as the effect the disease has on the sufferer’s family could be a subject worth exploring further.

However, as Neil’s condition deteriorates to breaking point, this effect is made all too clear. Whilst these scenes may be tough viewing for some, the importance of such moments cannot be underestimated, despite the distracting soundtrack attempting to add further feeling that is neither wanted nor needed. A common trope in documentary film making, the truth of the subject is more than enough, and so the off balance tinkling of a piano seems manipulative to say the least.

Despite these complaints, I Am Breathing is more than worthy of attention. The humor, courage and determination of Neil and his family are something to marvel at, as is their confidence in allowing such close, albeit basic, direction to tell their story. Yet the true enjoyment comes from knowing that Neil’s wish of spreading awareness of his disease is coming true thanks to this humbling and affecting documentary.

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