THE DEEPEST BREATH (2023)
Release Date: 07/19/23 [Netflix]
"A champion and expert safety diver seemed destined for one another. Despite different paths taken, they meet at the pinnacle of the free-diving world, experiencing the thrilling rewards and inescapable risks of chasing dreams through the depths of the ocean."
OUR DOCUMENTARY REVIEW:
The Deepest Breath begins with a shot of a freediver, descending alone into the blue abyss of the deep sea. It’s a beautiful shot that perfectly encapsulates the heart of this one hour and forty-eight minute documentary.
The film follows Alessia Zecchini, an Italian freediver, who is intent on breaking the world record. Along the way, she meets safety diver Stephen Keenan, who is regarded as one of the best safety divers in the sport. They pair up and begin training together as Alessia pursues her goal with dogged determination and perseverance.
Director Laura McGann chooses to introduce the pair separately. We go back to the beginning, with Alessia as a young girl who dreamed of being a world renowned freediver. She began competing early on and showed promise at a young age. Her father was nothing but encouraging and was one of the few who understood her desire to achieve greatness in a sport that was dangerous with the potential to be deadly. Meanwhile Stephen was a bit of a lost soul. He began traveling the world, including an extensive stay in Africa, searching for something he could never quite name. When he had his first experience freediving, something clicked. And although he would never be elite in competitions, he became a tremendously skilled safety diver.
Safety divers are an important aspect of freediving. The freediver must descend and then come back up to the surface in one breath. Sometimes they’re diving the length of the Statue of Liberty, which means they must also traverse that distance again to reach the surface. Obviously this is incredibly dangerous and a variety of things can go wrong. McGann uses plenty of archival footage of free divers who run out of oxygen and black out before reaching the surface. This is where safety divers come into play. They hover about 30 meters from the surface waiting to assist divers who get into trouble. Their performance and skill as divers, as well as the rescue techniques they implement, can be the difference between life and death for freedivers.
It was during the freediving competition Vertical Blue in the Bahamas where Stephen and Alessia first connected. They began training together as Alessia chased the world record. And afterwards the pair embarked on one of the most perilous freediving attempts in the world–the Blue Hole in Egypt. The movie culminates here as they prepare for one of the most dangerous feats in the sporting world.
This is a documentary about freediving, but it’s also about love. It’s certainly a love story between Stephen and Alessia. But it is also a love story with freediving. Both Stephen and Alessia understand the others' drive to engage in an often perilous sport that few would ever consider undertaking. In the search for connection, perhaps that understanding is what’s most critical in their relationship with each other. But what really communicates that bond is the footage of their freediving exploits. The cinematography is beautiful and captures what it might feel like to be that far underwater, alone, with nothing around you. Throughout the movie, it’s easy to find yourself holding your breath as divers descend to depths that seem humanly impossible. The Deepest Breath is a fascinating look at two freedivers who push the boundary of what is possible both in this extreme sport and in the love they have for each other.