The Big Blue (France-Italy-U.S., 1988):
(Le Grand Bleu)

Luc Besson beats James Cameron to the punch by imagining oceanic vastness as no less otherworldly than intergalactic spaces, both areas given to photogenic anti-gravitational grace. The prologue is a b&w exploration of Mediterranean coasts, a Greek island oddly reminiscent of Eisenstein's Mexico, with frequent dips into the water for Cousteauesque views of marine fauna and flora while introducing the chummy rivalry of the two deep-sea diving protagonists, first spotted as kids competing for a sunken doubloon. Cut to the wacky late '80s, with Jean Reno making a mint saving trapped swimmers and Jean-Marc Barr up in the icy Andes, emerging from a cabin in red bodysuit and darkened goggles, all in Zen slow-mo, ready to leap into a frigid lake. American flibbertigibbet Rosanna Arquette, an insurance agent, watches Barr do his underwater stuff, "a phenomenon only observed in whales and dolphins... until now," and is smitten; in one of Besson's moony-romantic dabs, she literally takes his heartbeat back to New York City with her, printed on a strip of lab paper. They meet again at the world diving contest, which also precipitates Barr's reunion with Reno, if not necessarily a love triangle -- the booty the two artisan-daredevils seek isn't Arquette's, but the ocean's, "down there" with the dolphins, mermaids, etc. Women "are unpredictable, like the sea," the young Barr is told shortly before his dad drowns, so, as befits the Hawksian ethos of guys trying to outdo each other's lungs through gargantuan descents, the affair is between Man and Nature, the liquid purity of adventure and aquatic ballets set to Eric Serra's ethereal score. Barr emerges from the depths triumphantly, and Besson cuts to flipping Flippers; Reno, meanwhile, grounds the bluish abstraction with subtle-raspy clowning, dodging his mamma at the restaurant to share a glass of champagne with his pal in the bottom of a pool, both in dripping tuxedoes when rushed out in stretchers minutes later. Besson's vision is childlike, meaning it's got some growing up to do before it turns adolescent, and that it can still confuse vapidity for sublimity and get away with it. With Paul Shenar, Sergio Castellitto, Marc Duret, Valentina Vargas, and Griffin Dunne.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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