Movie: The Big Blue

The Big Blue
The Big Blue

The Big Blue (first released in 1988) is a fictionalised account of a rivalry between two free divers, Enzo Maiorca (renamed in the film to Enzo Molinari) and Jacques Mayol. As children, they compete diving for coins in the harbour of the small fishing village where they live, and a strong rivalry (at least in Enzo’s mind) is born. Years later, he persuades Jacques to come and compete against him at the world free diving championships.

While free diving and being the world championship seems to be all that occupies Enzo’s mind, Jacques is quieter and more philosophical, and tries to understand his connection to the ocean (he has an affinity for dolphins) and to the life he has when he’s not diving. He begins a relationship with an annoying American woman, but his immaturity and other-worldliness gives rise to frustrations when he cannot reciprocate her desire for a white picket fence with two and a half children and a dog.

The film was shot mostly in the Mediterranean, and has a beautiful soundtrack of electronic music by Eric Serra. Despite the competition between the men, it’s quite slow paced. We watched the director’s cut, which is almost three hours long. The scenery and the clarity of the water in which the men dive (and the idyllic little coastal villages where they grow up and compete) is quite bewitching.

The discipline in which the two men compete is No Limit, the same as that practiced by Audrey Mestre, Pipin Ferreras and Carlos Serra, protagonists of The Last Attempt and The Dive. The diver descends on a weighted sled (in The Big Blue, to 130-odd metres, which is far shallower than current records) and ascends with the assistance of a balloon or inflatable jacket. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous free diving disciplines (Herbert Nitsch,  one of the greatest living free divers, has recently had a bit of a speed wobble trying to extend the record to 244 metres).

It’s interesting to compare Nitsch’s highly experimental arrangement with the somewhat primitive-looking sled shown in the film. The concerns of the doctors, that the men are reaching depths beyond which it is physiologically impossible to descend, are still echoed each time a new record is set. The frequency of DCS and other neurological disturbances in divers who push the limits, however, makes me wonder whether we are in fact approaching some kind of threshold. Since many of these divers are genetic abberations (in a good way), it’s hard to generalise, but I watch developments in the sport with interest.

This is a beautifully filmed, engrossing piece of cinematography, and a classic ocean film that deals with some universal questions (not least, why do some women insist on falling pregnant without first discussing it with their partner?).

The DVD is available here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here. The soundtrack, which is sublime, is available here for South Africans, and here otherwise.

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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