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Retro Film Review: The Big Blue (1988)
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stainsteelrat
The Big Blue (1988). Written and directed by Luc Besson, and loosely based on the lives of free divers Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca. The story starts in 1965 in Greece, and centres around two children, Jacques Mayol and Enzo Molinari, respectively French and Italian. Jacques is quiet and unassuming, whereas Enzo is brash and a bully. In a scene that highlights this, Jacques offers to retrieve a coin from the bottom of the harbour, after it is spotted by two children. Enzo hijacks the discussion, dives for the coin, and then takes it. Jacques' family is poor, and his mother moved back to the USA without him, so he lives with his father and uncle. His father is a diver who harvests shellfish, but he dies when something goes wrong with his equipment - which Jacques witnesses. The film then moves forward around 20 years. As adults, both Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr) and Enzo (Jean Reno) work in diving. Enzo saves a SCUBA diver, for a fee, after he is trapped in a ship that is being salvaged. Jacques is in Chile, where his body is being researched in the context of his ability to stay underwater for long periods of time. It's in Chile where Jacques meets an American insurance investigator, Johana (Rosanna Arquette), who falls in love with him. Enzo highlights his ongoing competition with Jacques by inviting him to the world free diving championships. The Big Blue is certainly not a mainstream film, and hard to encapsulate easily. Besson weaves an odd but tangible story of competition between the two men, albeit one far more reluctant than the other. Ex-model Jean-Marc Barr is very good as the understated Jacques, and Jean Reno is superb as the brash Enzo. An honorary mention also for the very well selected child actors that play them in the first few minutes of the film. Patricia Arquette is a smidge irritating as Jacques' love interest, but manages to scrape likeable. The often great cinematography, particularly during the underwater shots, adds lots to the atmosphere. The only thing that significantly dates the film is the rather quirky and 80s sounding synthesiser soundtrack, by Eric Serra. I don't hear any problem with it, having seen the film in the late 80s, but it does upset some who are new to the film. As mentioned, I first saw the film probably in the very late 80s or early 90s on TV, and was instantly smitten. For me Besson, and the cast and crew, weaved a peculiar and quirky film that was the perfect distraction from mainstream cinema. The story has a mix of highs and lows that I feel very much in tune with, and it's one of the few films guaranteed to bring a tear to my eye. It's certainly up there as one of my all time favourite films, with very few others. Footnote 1: as mentioned above, the film is based on the lives of two genuine free divers, Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca (changed to Molinari for the film). Mayol free dived to 105m when he was 56, in 1983, and then retired. Mayol worked on the script with Besson, but Maiorca complained bitterly about the film, and managed to get it banned in Italy. Mayol sued Maiorca and got the ban reversed though. **Spoiler** In a sad parallel with the film, Mayol hung himself in 2001. The reason for this was believed to be loneliness. **End of Spoiler** Footnote 2: The Big Blue was the most financially successful film in France in the 1980s. Footnote 3: The film was edited, and had both the soundtrack and ending changed for US theatrical release. The film got poor reviews in the USA, and the edited version is not available for home cinema. Those who like quirky foreign films should get a kick out of The Big Blue, even though it is mostly English language. There is a Director's Cut version which is recommended (168 minutes). 5/5 (Excellent)
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