I love when movies illuminate a topic I have never really thought deeply about before, and that is exactly what Netflix’s incredible new documentary THE DEEPEST BREATH does. Directed by Laura McGann, this film focuses on the treacherous sport of free diving, which is considered the second most dangerous sport (after base jumping). As a quick explainer, freediving is holding your breath (without the aid of SCUBA equipment) and diving to extreme depths. And while you may not have invested too much time thinking about this before, I can assure you that once the film ends, you are going to have a whole new respect and interest in the world of freediving.
The film follows Italian Alessia Zecchini, who is attempting to break the world record in freediving, and former freediver turned safety diver Stephen Keenan. Zecchini continues to push herself to the limit, on many occasions risking her life to prove that she is one of the best in the sport. Keenan, on the other hand, is part of the other side of diving. The most dangerous part of freediving comes as the divers are beginning to surface; Keenan uses his freediving talent to catch divers in distress, ensuring that if they black out, they have the chance to be revived. That is how dangerous this sport can be… lives can be changed in an instant.
McGann does a phenomenal job of treating the documentary as almost a true crime story or thriller, concealing the events of what happened to her subjects until the very end. From examining the dangers of freediving and interviewing those close to Zecchini and Keenan, it’s clear something is going to go wrong. But the film is more about the journey of how these two people got into such a dangerous sport and memorializes their respect for each other and determination to be the best at what they do. The film works best when you go into it knowing nothing and don’t Google anything in between; let the story play out and find out what happens when the filmmakers intended.
THE DEEPEST BREATH is one of the most anxiety-inducing documentaries I have seen. In fact, I think I was more on the edge of my seat for this than I was for FREE SOLO. With its beautiful cinematography, the film places audiences directly into the underwater world, providing a first-hand look on what it means to be a freediver. So much so, I continued to find myself holding my breath along with the subjects of the film. And when you find out that the most famous and successful freediver of all time, Natalia Molchanova, died during a dive, it’s clear no one is safe.
THE DEEPEST BREATH is a terrifying, but beautiful examination on following your passion, finding a community, and the risks and rewards of pushing yourself past its limit. The cinematography features some of the most beautiful underwater shots I have seen on film, which enables you to further immerse yourself in the world; I would love to see this documentary in a museum’s IMAX theater. McGann does a phenomenal job building out the world of freediving, not only making you immediately care and understand the people risking their lives for this sport, but also encouraging you to feel a part of it yourself.
My Review: A