The Deepest Breath (2023)

The Deepest Breath (2023)

A heart-wrenching documentary that, for better or worse, unravels like a thriller in the deep sea

7.3

Movie

Ireland, United Kingdom
English, Italian, Russian
Documentary
2023
FEMALE DIRECTOR, LAURA MCGANN
Alessia Zecchini, David Attenborough, Natalya Molchanova
108 min

TLDR

Extreme sports films like this need a content warning about everyone being okay in the end.

What it's about

The true story of how record-breaking freestyle diver Alessia Zecchini became who she is today and how she met acclaimed safety diver Stephen Keenan who would go on to train with her until 2017.

The take

Freediving is a particularly cinematic sport because it taps into something beyond what the human body is capable of. Skilled divers hold their breath for long enough to reach more than 100 meters deep, and watching footage of that incredible feat is exhilarating, to say the least. The Deepest Breath capitalizes on that very spectacle—being exposed to death and conquering it—and banks on using archival footage of world records and training. It's a smart move, as it keeps the spectator on edge, but it can also be a cruel way to put thrills over ethics. The editing is kept suggestive, but sometimes, shamefully, at the cost of misrepresenting Alessia Zecchini and toying with the viewer's expectations to the point of callousness.

What stands out

The Deepest Breath feels like a history of freediving as a discipline and the script is built around the notions of beauty and danger. By weaving the story of both Alessia and Stephen's lives from very early age, the narrative elicits empathy and openness, two crucial qualities that the audience will find reflected back at them from the screen. The talking heads, the archival clips, the editing, and the rhythm they orchestrate are all in service of a heroic plot that feels ever-expanding. As deep as the protagonists' ocean dives, our spectatorial involvement directly follows from a carefully constructed, but also true to life, script.

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