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Review: I am Breathing

June 19, 2013

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


This is one of the most moving documentaries I have seen in a very long time (and I watch a lot of documentaries). It’s obviously no surprise that within weeks of its world premiere at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in November, I Am Breathing was hailed as one of the best documentaries in 2012 and one of the films to watch in 2013. This touching documentary – a Scottish/Danish co-production from directors Emma Davie and Morag McKinnonhas, is a bold and emotional piece of filmmaking, following a successful young architect, Neil Platt from being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease to his death in 2009.

This is a brilliant stand out documentary because the filmmakers capture the essence of its subject’s handling of his fate, and as a result, successfully explore the difficulty of a human being’s comprehension of death. Not to be dismissed as morbid, sentimental or exploitative in any way, I Am Breathing is a tough watch but none of the former. It offers a celebration of a man’s life and fulfils Neil’s wishes to promote awareness of MND and encourage fund-raising into the research of possible cures. It explores how a man’s perspectives change as he faces leaving his young family, but is as much a celebration of life as it is about encountering death and that is thanks to both the treatment of the subject and Neil’s personality.

Paralyzed by a cruel and debilitating disease, Neil must say goodbye to his wife and at only 33 years of age, is becoming increasingly dependent on his family, but despite facing such suffering, Neil’s strength and determination never withered. He wanted to create something poignant and positive from his experience and this led to his decision to share his experiences through a blog that touched an innumerable amount of people. His brave attitude and openness is inspiring; he explores the universal question ‘What makes us human’ and his ability to share and convey his experiences really leave you counting your blessings. The film contains poignant ‘flashbacks’ in the form of amateur video shot by Neil, his family and friends, with narration by Neil and extracts read from his blog by an actor. What makes the film so special is Neil’s ability to stay strong, his unfading sense of humour (“my condition continues to be a royal pain in the arse”) and lack of self pity. This is partly thanks to his co-star, his young son Oscar with whom you encounter the purest of relationships – a father’s love for his son and a way of drawing strength from love at the painful point of being forced to say goodbye.


Get the tissues ready, but also prepare to smile as this film is not easy viewing but Neil’s approach is sardonic, emotional and thoughtful. The way Neil’s thoughts, memories, worries and strengths are portrayed are both inspiring and affirming. Neil tells his story and shares in the most honest way his worries about the future of his family once he’s passed. What will his son remember? What will happen when he’s gone? Neil is a human being facing the most painful of human experience and this has been superbly handled by the filmmakers. Neil’s resounding strength as he fulfils his objective of raising awareness of MND and leaving a legacy for his family felt like a privilege to encounter. His death was tragic but his life will be forever celebrated.

Kerry Flint.

I am Breathing is released in cinemas this Friday 21st June.

For more information about MND please visit the website http://www.mndassociation.org/