Freediving, the sport of diving under the water without any breathing assistance, is as dangerous as going climbing without the use of a harness as seen in Free Solo. It’s a sport where you ask why would anyone be willing to do any of this. One slight problem could result in death. In Laura McGann‘s documentary, The Deepest Breath, there is no holding back. It explores why people love to do this and the perils of being a freediver in international competitions. The center of the story is around Italian freediver Alessia Zecchini and her pursuit of world records.
Mixing archival footage, interviews, and reenactments, the stories of Zecchini and fellow Irish freediver Stephen Keenan are shown in parallel. Their lives become intertwined over their obsession with this sport. While Zecchini is a natural-born talent who is already one of the strongest divers by the age of 18, Keenan is a globe trotter looking for his calling before falling in love with freediving. After having a serious blackout, Keenan becomes a safety diver, learning how to keep freedivers safe when things go awry.
The Deepest Breath is a story of beauty and danger that has claimed many people who partake in this sport. As Alessia answers at the start of the documentary, death is not thought of. “It’s like being in the last quiet place on Earth,” says Alessia about going to the lower depths. Here, it gets dark before having to turn around and face the difficult path of climbing back to the surface. When Alessia initially fails to get to her planned depth level, her actions border on recklessness. When both she and Keenan meet for the first time, a love connection is immediately felt as he seeks to help Alessia reach her goals.
Since its debut at Sundance, a common criticism is how McGann can get manipulative with the storytelling as it leads up to the ominous ending. It is something I quickly picked up along the way. However, he creates the feeling of being that deep underwater and leaves the audience breathless watching these sequences. We are talking about actual lives and the use of countless archive footage and voiceover to accompany this story. The Deepest Breath, a Netflix release that feels more like an IMAX release, takes hold of the danger and beauty of freediving.