March 3, 2024

Film Review: The Deepest Breath

4 Stars
By Joseph Beyer | Aug. 19, 2023

While the new epic documentary The Deepest Breath is definitely not for the faint of heart, those able to endure the onscreen tension of near death experiences will learn a great deal about living life to its fullest.

You may even experience, as I did, the full emotional spectrum, along with a sense of quiet insignificance compared to the power and scale of human bravery filmed in effervescent slow motion from every angle imaginable.

To dive into depths and pressures of the magnitude in The Deepest Breath takes years and years of training. The film follows Italian freediver Alessia Zecchini as she shows early promise in the extreme sport, encouraged by her father and with a competitive edge that won’t quit. Zecchini excels when she’s focused, and she plots a relentless path toward world records in the shadow of her hero, Natalia Molchanova, a pioneering woman who endlessly blew minds and broke records.

Along this international journey to break her own records (with depths beyond 100+ meters and and pressure reaching over 50 psi), Zecchini eventually crosses paths with a kindred spirit and fellow diver in Stephen Keenan, an Irish adventurer with a passion for freediving and wanderlust who would change her life forever. Keenan helps to tame and train Zecchini’s talents, and in him she finds a romantic partner she entrusts with her life as a safety diver.

You’ll learn the importance of these safety squads, but not before tragedy strikes. And when Zecchini and Keenan finally face a challenge they can’t escape, it will leave a shadow on everyone who knows them. It’s then that audiences feel the deep pain of the friends and families who watch loved ones push themselves to the human limits, even as they cheer their passion for the sport.

Add sound, or sometimes the lack of it, and the film becomes even more powerful in the hands of director Laura McGann, who moves the narrative between worlds of water and air back and forth in so many angles and ways that you’ll sometimes feel a slight bit of vertigo—exactly the sensations of the freedivers themselves. In a true story pieced together from the found footage of a GoPro generation, this unlikely love story plays out like a thriller in front of us.

Produced by A24 and having premiered earlier at the Sundance Film Festival written and directed in the strongs hands of McGann, the documentary is now available on Netflix and runs 1 hour and 46 minutes.

In my viewing experience, The Deepest Breath is a wonderful mashup with hints of Luc Besson’s French drama The Big Blue (1988), and the riveting pulse of Senna (2010)—but it holds its own as something you’ve never seen or felt before, mainly because of the draw of the deep mysteries it explores.

Some of those mysteries are of the mind, others of the heart—but the largest mystery remains the awe and language of the ocean world we can still only barely understand.

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