The Big Blue

Luc Besson, France 1988, 136 minutes

Anyone who saw the magnificent Leon would agree that director Luc Besson is a truly gifted man. He has for years been making slick, stylish, visually arresting movies that combine serious themes with flashes of comic brilliance. He made his name in France in the `80s with three amazing films:Subway and La Femme Nikita, both fast-moving action-type movies, and this one.

Besson here gives us a very different experience than we are used to from him; a languid, meditative exploration not of the sea itself, but of its effect on two men whose draw to it comes dangerously close to obsession. The aquiline Jean-Marc Barr gives a performance that has stayed with him his whole life as free-diver Jaques Mayol and Besson's favourite actor, Jean Reno (Leon himself) is a superb foil as Enzo - Mayol's friend and rival.

The sport of free-diving (a contest to see who can go the deepest without oxygen tanks) is an ideal subject for Besson as it is about as photogenic as they come, as well as being a loner's pursuit. The taciturn Mayol's enigmatic affinity with the sea is both the thing that draws people to him (specifically ditzy New York insurance agent Rosanna Arquette) and the thing that separates him from them, as he is always slightly uncomfortable when he isn't in his element, frolicking with the dolphins he so resembles.

This film is essentially a tragedy, but it is not without its moments of comedy. The egomaniacal, narcissistic Enzo is a constant source of delight, especially in his relationship with his diminutive brother Roberto and his overbearing mother. The real star of the film, however, is the third corner of the love triangle, the sea itself. Sumptuously captured by Besson's camera, and brought to life by Eric Serra's haunting score, it is sometimes beautiful and calm, other times dark and threatening (as in the Peruvian diving scenes at the beginning). There are so many reasons to love this film, and an opportunity to catch it in all its soaring majesty on the big screen should not be missed.

"Visually stunning" - The Independent

Review by Ben Stephens
Taken from EUFS Programme 1996-97