Early in “The Deepest Breath,” an underwater drone follows free diver Alessia Zecchini as she plunges 100 meters down into the ocean’s darkish depths, and again up, all on a single breath.
The heart-pounding, claustrophobic three-and-a-half-minute sequence is as tough to look at as it’s mesmerizing.
As she ascends to the shallows, Zecchini’s physique begins to twitch. Rescue divers seize her and drag her as much as the floor, her unconscious eyes rolling grotesquely backward as she is resuscitated.
It could appear stunning, however “blacking out” from lack of oxygen is a standard prevalence in free diving, an excessive sport during which athletes compete to go as deep as they will with none respiratory equipment.
“You can watch all the videos in the world. It doesn’t really prepare you for seeing a human being just pass out like that,” mentioned director Laura McGann, director of the Netflix documentary, out Wednesday. “It’s scary to see.”
Through archive footage, interviews and a handful of re-enactments, McGann’s movie explores what drives these women and men to repeatedly threat their lives and push the boundaries of human endurance in pursuit of recent aggressive data.
“Seeing a human being behave more like a seal or a dolphin in the water, with no tanks, was kind of like learning that there was a group of people in part of the world that knew how to fly,” she instructed AFP.
Specifically, the movie focusses on the connection between record-breaking diver Zecchini and Stephen Keenan, a nomadic younger Irishman who turns into one of many sport’s prime security specialists.
Free divers, if not actively courting demise, don’t seem to concern it. Indeed, Zecchini airily claims within the film’s opening scene that she doesn’t even take into consideration demise.
Yet it rapidly turns into obvious that some type of tragedy has occurred.
Neither Zecchini nor Keenan seem among the many movie’s present-day interviews, leaving the query of their fates hanging for a lot of the film — not less than, for these ready to withstand a fast Google search.
That construction was criticized as being considerably manipulative in early evaluations at January’s Sundance Film Festival, the place the film premiered, having already been acquired by Netflix days earlier.
But McGann determined “really early” that her movie would stay “in the moment” with its characters all through their journeys.
Death “was always going to be towards the end of the film,” she mentioned.
“The Deepest Breath” is the most recent documentary to discover harmful obsessions by means of the lens of a love story.
Last yr’s Oscar-nominated “Fire of Love” adopted a husband-and-wife scientist couple as they risked their lives to discover the craters of erupting volcanoes.
In 2019, “Free Solo” profiled death-defying climber Alex Honnold, as he juggled his obsession with climbing a infamous rockface with out ropes, and his relationship together with his understandably terrified girlfriend.
For McGann, the connection between Zecchini and Keenan was “a yin and a yang,” like “they were each other’s missing piece,” even earlier than they related as celebrities within the small free diving neighborhood.
It emphasizes that free diving is as a lot a psychological sport as it’s a bodily one, requiring very particular character sorts that not solely keep calm, however actively get pleasure from being 100 meters below water, past rescue.
“What the free diver is feeling is definitely close to the complete opposite to what we the audience are feeling,” defined McGann.
While viewers would possibly wrestle for breath simply watching, divers communicate of a “serene, quiet, peaceful silence,” as they quieten their minds and scale back their coronary heart charges to “that of a Tibetan monk.”
“You’re almost in a meditative state,” mentioned McGann. “But you need to keep a little bit of your subconscious aware of what you’re doing — so that you remember that you have to come back up.”
© 2023 AFP