Netflix and A24 team-up for the compelling documentary, “The Deepest Breath”. The film takes a deep dive into the extreme—ly dangerous world of freediving, through the lives of two of the sport’s most iconic participants.
Director Laura McGann begins by introducing us to multi-world record holder Alessia Zecchini and safety instructor/trainer Stephen Keenan using archival footage — in a back-and-forth style — that works effectively.
Alessia became obsessed with freediving (which, basically, is seeing how far someone can swim underwater in one breath) at a very young age. And she was great at it almost immediately. Her goal was to break as many records as possible.
Stephen, on the other hand, wasn’t quite sure what to do with his life. He traveled the world before discovering his true calling — helping others. And he longed for a true relationship with someone.
When these come together at a competition they’re a perfect match — in and out of the water. He coached her. She trusted him. Their bond got deeper and deeper. This relationship becomes the driving force of the doc.
But “The Deepest Breath” also takes us inside the freediving community, where participants push themselves past their physical limits, often with frightening results. There are incredible highs and tragic lows. The cinematography and camerawork are completely immersive, taking us underwater with these risk-taking thrill-seekers. We hold our breath on every dive.
Interviewees include the fathers of both Alessia and Stephen. They provide some incredibly raw and real soundbites on their children, while displaying the emotional weight that comes with having a child involved in freediving. Nainita Desai’s score is one of the best I’ve heard in a documentary in several years.
“The Deepest Breath” does start a bit slowly. Cutting one or two of Alessia’s [many] dives as a teenager would have made the first half flow a little better. Tonally, the second half touches perfection, highlighted by a definitive storytelling decision McGann makes in the final act. This is a haunting film, with imminent death present from the first frames to the last, never leaving our side.
Though it’s rated PG (rare for a non-100% nature doc), there are highly intense moments and emotional sequences that should make “The Deepest Breath” off-limits for younger viewers.
LCJ GRADE: B+
Running Time: 108 min.