Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr) and Enzo (Jean Reno) have known each other since childhood. For the bulk of the film they are adults, but it was as children that they swam in the beautiful pristine waters of the Mediterranean, becoming known for their swimming prowess – specifically their ability to remain underwater for long periods of time without breathing apparatus.
Despite knowing each other for decades, Jacques and Enzo were never close, being competitors might bring respect, but it doesn’t automatically bring friendship.
It is competitive fire that impels Enzo to track down Jacques over two decades since their last contact, and not to discuss the past, but to invite him to take place in the World Free Dive competition.
Enzo would travel countless miles to see a man he hardly knows face to face, to offer to pay his way into a competition, because Enzo wants to beat him.
Free diving is apparently a matter of depth. The diver summons the energy and courage above the surface of the ocean, draws his last breath (for now), before being dragged beneath the cold waters by a rope. The greater the depth, the bigger the achievement. The act takes composure, belief, the ability to cope with extreme cold, and of course the capacity to hold one’s breath for prolonged periods.
Enzo is the reigning world champ, but Jacques is a well credentialed free diver already, and swiftly proves his peer.
With days between dives, Enzo and Jacques have much time to reminisce and catch up. Though neither have changed much since childhood. Enzo remains brash and bold. He yearns for acknowledgement and the admiration of others. Jacques is more introverted and quiet.
Their only shared trait is that they would rather die than accept the other as their better.
This is never more evident than when Johana the American insurance assessor arrives, fascinated by what free diving represents and, it would seem, one of the pair.
The Big Blue clocks in at over two and a half hours. With splendid Mediterranean backdrops and beautifully shot vistas, it is serene and hypnotic, punctuated only by the slightly Chaplinesque shenanigans that director Luc Besson seems to love.
As a love story between both man and woman and men and competitive fire, it is perhaps a film to be admired than captivated by, but I can see how some people can become besotted by The Big Blue, just as Enzo, Jacques and Johana are.
Final Rating – 7 / 10. Sounds sillier when you call it what it is: a holding the breath competition.