The Big Blue

Year 1988

Jean-Marc Barr   as  Jacques Mayol 
Jean Reno as Enzo Molinari
Rosanna Arquette   as Johanna Baker
Griffin Dunne as Duffy
Director - Luc Besson
Screenwriters - Luc Besson
    Robert Garland  
    Marilyn Goldin
    Jacques Mayol
    Marc Perrier

Check out the cover. "From the director of The Fifth Element and The Professional". From these references, one would think that this is an action film with lots of bullets. One, of course, would be wrong.

So! One day in 1993 I'm sitting at home flipping through the channels. Nothing catches my fancy, so I let the surfing stop on a station that sometimes shows interesting things. At the time the station was showing a movie about people holding their breaths and quietly following a rope that is going down into the ocean. Hmmm. Unique, interesting, but slow.

Then, when these divers surface, one of the characters is Jean Reno. Whoa! "The Cleaner" from La Femme Nikita! O.K., at point I become curious and decide to watch what remained of the film. I'm glad that I did. What a wonderfully moody film about the sport of free diving. Too bad I tuned in late and only caught the last half-hour or so. Still, the scenes of people being towed along the rope as they plunged deeper and deeper in the abyss of the ocean stayed with me.

Fast forward to 2007. Now I know who Jean Reno and Luc Besson are. I like both of them. Should I try and watch what could be boring movie? With Jean and Luc involved as well as the memory of those diving scenes, I figure it's worth a shot. Plus, my wife and I could both agree on this one. So, we rented it.

Free diving is a sport that I've never even heard of. Apparently, it is legitimate and people can go down as far as 244 meters (800 feet) while holding their breath. To put that into perspective, when people with scuba gear "deep dive" they go down only a little farther than a lousy 130 feet.

Anyway, back to the movie. Two boys, one a little on the sensitive side and the other a little more mercenary, spend their youths together and compete against each other in holding their breath under water sorts of contests. They're never really friends but rather good natured rivals. After drifting apart, they meet up again as adults.

Jacques Mayol (Jean-Marc Barr) is the sensitive one and Enzo Molinari (Jean Reno) is the more pragmatic one. Since the name Jacques Mayol is listed as one of the screenwriters, this film gains instant credibility points.

It turns out that the movie is a pseudo-autobiographical tale with respect to the real life competition between Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca. By that, I mean that the two men are real, they competed against each other in free diving, and their film personalities were true to their real-life attitudes and dreams. That they knew each other as children is fictionalized.

Like most good movies, the main plot, that of free diving competition, is only part of the story. The real story is the character study of the two men who set record after record in the sport.

These two men are not alike in many ways. Enzo is rough, emotional, and dismissive of anything not associated with the sport. Jacques is refined, controlled, and fascinated with life. He also has a penchant for dolphins which takes on an esoteric mantle.

There's a woman, Johanna Baker (Rosanna Arquette) who is the touchstone that allows the men to become friends. It's not a love triangle, unless you count the sport instead of the woman as the third corner.

Sound dull? Maybe. But it is compelling. There's some humor, some soul searching, but mostly there's the competition and the underwater scenes. And because the men are based on real life divers, there's a complexity to their presentation that not only makes them believable, it makes you care about them. Even if you didn't know that these men really existed (and I didn't when I saw the movie), you believe that they should exist.

As usual, get the director's cut. It a more languid tale and the pace more closely matches the sport. The last thing you want to do before trying to hold your breath is get keyed up. If the movie's shortened, it loses its rhythm and placidity.

The movie may be a bit too slow paced for repeated viewing. But, for a special treat, you should watch it at least once.

Back to the "At Least Once" list or the main movie list.