The Deepest Breath
With lots of talk to do with water, from exploring the depths of the ocean, the tragedy regarding the Titanic submersible, and even the splash caused by the recent release of the live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid, the subject of diving seems to be a hot topic this summer. That’s where Netflix’s new documentary from Laura McGann, The Deepest Breath, comes in – an exploration of the life of Alessia Zecchini, an Italian freediver, and her quest to break a world record. On the surface, the film may seem like a story of one person’s triumphs and failures, their heroic journey to conquering their dreams. But at the heart of it is something much simpler and more human: The Deepest Breath tells the tale of two halves of one whole, two people destined to be together, in one way or another.
“I’ve always believed that nothing ever happens to us by chance. There’s always a connecting thread. Something that leads you down a certain road,” is what Zecchini’s father says in the documentary. For Zecchini and her safety diving partner, Stephen Keenan, that connecting thread is a love for the ocean and adventure. Zecchini is the star with her diving escapades and insurmountable talent constantly being highlighted. But the emotional core of the film is her partnership with Keenan and whatever relationship there is between them that makes them such a compatible pair. This idea of two halves of one whole is well-depicted in the symmetry within the cinematography. Interviewees are mostly framed in the centre of the screen, especially in the case of Zecchini, and in the few available pieces of archival footage of Keenan. This complements the use of the diving downline as an apparatus of separation between Zecchini and Keenan under the water, highlighting how, despite being two different entities, they are one and connected by their love for diving.
The score for The Deepest Breath is very nuanced and versatile, pairing with several themes tackled by the film. The first is of triumph in Zecchini and her continuous attempts and successes. The score does a brilliant job of underlining how capable she is, and the awe the interviewees have for her vast talent. Yet still, the same tracks used can exude a sense of dread, focusing on the danger the water and the ocean can pose – from damage to the lungs, getting lost undersea and never to be found again, to simple miscalculations leading to people’s demise; a tragic fate met by Keenan himself.
The Deepest Breath is almost a love story framed as a documentary, with a haunting ending that leaves a lot to pounder on: the what-ifs surrounding Keenan’s death, the question of who these two partners really were to each other, and how far humans can really explore the secrets of the seas before it starts fighting back – one life taken at a time. As they say, “It’s always the ocean, and we are nothing.”
The Deepest Breath is released in UK cinemas on 14th July and on Netflix on 19th July 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Deepest Breath here: