Two childhood friends, Enzo and Jacques, long since grown apart but still sharing their passion for free-diving, will reunite at a championship in Italy. In the meantime American scientist Johana has become fascinated with Jacques’ almost dolphin-like physiognomy beneath the water. He is the only one who can threaten Enzo’s hold on the world championship. Love and rivalry will push them into dangerous places.
Luc Besson, he of the cinema du look, if not cinema du think, reached a kind of Zen-like apotheosis with this tale of men-fish, slowing down their heart-rates so that they can plunge into the amniotic glory of the deep and commune with nature. It’s a spiritual glaze: achingly beautiful, haunted by the tender strains of Eric Serra’s keyboards, but, at heart, pure showing off. Unsurprisingly, then, it has become a cult champion, lost to the exigencies of plot.
What, Mr. Besson, are we to make of Jacques’ somnolent, inhuman persona? Jean-Marc Barr, as handsome as an Alpine dawn, simply fills the vacuum of his character with long-looks and moody indifference. Quite why kooky Rosanne Arquette falls for him, demanding to have his children even if they might have webbed feet, is anyone’s guess. The script’s not helping, it’s all subtext — man, nature, the great unknowables. It’s probably his magnificent cheekbones and the quirky fact he has pictures of his dolphin family in his wallet.
Jean Reno helps shifts things along, his long-face has an diffident, ironic quality, but we are so engulfed in enigma, we are kept nonplussed if not completely irked by these child-cod-men who dream of spending their lives in the drink.
What’s left is a world spanning, ocean diving aesthetic nearly peerless in its
visual appetite. Nature takes on an sublime, dreamlike quality in cinematographer Carlo Varni’s hands; Besson is much happier communing than telling a story. There’s a lot to be said for just letting it wash over you, you might just detect traces of the spiritual salve it strains for (there’s a 168 min. director’s cut that could replace the need for goldfish). But try fathoming its depths and you’ll just get washed ashore.
This simple tale of love, friendship and the sea lingers in the mind long after the final credits.