THE DEEPEST BREATH
July 19, 2023 / Netflx
Directed By: Laura McGann
The story of a champion freediver and expert safety diver, whose lives seemed fated to converge at the height of their careers. A look at the thrilling rewards — and inescapable risks — of chasing dreams through the depths of the ocean.
Written By Darren
Rating 3 out of 5
The Deepest Breath beautifully captures the ocean with striking cinematography while infusing the documentary with a cautionary message about pushing oneself to the extreme, that creates an intriguing but deeply unsettling experience.
Before this documentary, I knew nothing about free-diving or that the sport even existed. The film provides a crash course introduction to the sport and the life threatening risks without sugar coating it for the audience, as it chronicles the lives of two free-divers: Alessia Zacchini and Stephen Keenan. On one hand, it’s hard not to be in awe of the athleticism on display in the sport as it truly is an incredible feat featured in each diving shot as you watch these individuals dive approximately one hundred meters on a single breath. But at the same time, it's a grueling watch as you witness these athletes have multiple seizures on screen as they nearly kill themselves. It’s not a film I can easily recommend as it is intense and leaves its mark on the viewer, though it is such a well put together documentary that I have nothing but praise for the documentary crew.
The documentary tells the story of Alessia Zacchini and Stephan Keenan, their childhood, what got them into free-diving and the impact they have had on the sport, all building towards their eventual meeting and the relationship they formed. From the outset, the viewers are told that this story ends in tragedy from the way the story is conveyed and the information divulged in interviews with Zacchini and Keenan’s family and fellow free-divers, but unless you know their stories, you don’t know what happens. Director Laura McGann purposely avoids this truth throughout the majority of the film, instead allowing the audience to come to their own conclusions given the dangers of free-diving, making it a big reveal near the end of the film which carries an emotional suckerpunch that audiences won’t be expecting. And when it is revealed, it is framed in an emotionally powerful way that simultaneously devastates you, has you questioning why these individuals would risk their lives as such, while also showcasing the powerful community within the free-diving world that raises your spirits and Zacchini and Keenan’s love of the sport and for each other.
From a technical perspective, this documentary is truly great. The editing is superb, utilizing historical images and footage and interviews to bring to life Zacchini and Keenan’s stories, while also showcasing lots of actual free-diving footage of them. This footage, captured by underwater cinematographers during their actual dives is mesmerizing, capturing the beauty and danger of the ocean within a single shot. It’s breathtaking footage that is the true highlight of the film, delivering some truly unforgettable footage of the ocean.
What is challenging about this film is the inherent danger in the sport of free-diving. It’s challenging to watch as these athletes have multiple seizures as the camera does not pull away, and some even die. It does not sugar coat the dangers of the sport or the risks taken by these athletes, giving the film a cautionary message of the dangers of the support. The experience of watching the film can only be described as emotionally draining for those who are not invested in the free-diving world, which may work for some viewers but will leave many viewers, like myself, deeply unsettled by the footage they watch during this film.
There is no denying the excellent filmmaking at work in this documentary, creating a compelling narrative with some truly magnificent underwater footage. Though, The Deepest Breath carefully frames the stories of Alessia Zacchini and Stephen Keenan and captures both the power of their bond and that of the free-diving community and balances it with the undeniable dangers of the sport, creating a heart pounding documentary that will both fascinate viewers and haunt them long after it is over.