(director/writer: laura McGann; cinematographer: Tim Cragg; editor: Julian Hart; music: Nainita Desai; cast: Alessia Zecchini; Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Sarah Thomson, Jamie D’Alton, Anne McLoughlin, John Battsek; A24/Netflix; 2023-Ireland/UK/USA-in English & Italian, with English subtitles)

“Distinguishes itself through its amazing underwater footage.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A non-critical documentary about the mysterious nature of the extreme sport of freediving (holding your breath for as long as you can as you dive into the ocean) and two of its athletes who gravitate toward it and to each other. It’s directed and written by laura McGann (“Revolutions”). It captures both the allure and menace of that ocean sport. It’s a sport I find to be absurd and would never think of doing or watching it as a spectacle.

The participants dive without scuba gear into the ocean depths for only a brief time, while holding their breathes as long as possible–with blackouts being a possible danger.

The focus is on the Italian champion Alessia Zecchini and the Irish diver Stephen Keenan. They met in the Bahamas in 2017, and began a short-lived romance while training together. The two adventurers are studied with long and boring back stories on them. Tragedy strikes one day in the Bahamas, in the Vertical Blue competition, when the fearless Alessia has a severe blackout after pushing the boundaries of possibilities further while competing.

We learn Alessia as a kid idolized the Russian free diver Natalia Molchanova, while Stephen traveled to the Egyptian diving Mecca of Dahab, home of the notorious deadly Blue Hole. After breaking Irish records with his own diving, Stephen becomes Alessia’s coach and safety diver (it’s necessary for the freediver to be guided back to safety on the surface in one breath after a deep dive).

It’s a beautiful film to look at and an easy film to forget, even as it distinguishes itself through its amazing underwater footage it never left me breathless.

It played at the Sundance Festival.