BMZ Review: Ocean Men: Extreme Dive
By Herb Lash
BMZ Review of Ocean Men
Written by: Herb Lash
Source: Big Movie Zone
Date: May 2001
The pop culture hysteria surrounding street luge, sky surfing, BASE-jumping and tow in surfing (to name a few) creates the illusion that extreme sporting is a modern creation.
But all-female Japanese pearl diving squads and Caribbean spear fishermen were the real pioneers of pushing the athletic envelope. The Large Format (LF) film Ocean Men drops this sort of curious knowledge as it explores the visually fascinating sport/art of free diving. The film puts giant screen imagery to the best sort of use it transports, immerses and engages. There are moments in Ocean Men where your lungs ache along with the divers', where you can almost feel the pressure from five stories of ocean water and when you feel the gasping relief that comes in breaking the surface after eight minutes on a single breath. Ocean Men would have been a very good film in any size format, but in this case bigger is better.
There is a real life free diving rivalry between Italian Umberto Pelizzari and Cuban born Pipin Ferreras. Umberto is from the old school: diving as an exercise in physical control and spiritual meditation: swim with flippers as deep as you can on one breath and save enough air to make that long swim back to the surface. Pipin is from the new school: diving as a quest for new extremes of body and mind - the only limiting factor is the physiology of the human body. He rides a highly engineered, weighted sled in a kind of cable car free fall that takes him to crushing depths not available to sledless Umberto. Umberto and Pipin have both gone deeper into the ocean (and lived to tell about it) than any other human being in the world, each according to his own style. Umberto owns the "constant weight" record at approximately 260 feet and Pipin has the record for "no limit" free diving at about 531 feet. Who is the real, undisputed record holder? A truly engaging aspect of the film is that you get to decide this for yourself.
The filmmakers are interested in the rivalry between Pelizzari and Ferreras, but are more interested in these particular men and their sport. Like the fictional French film Le Gran Bleu, this Big Movie finds a great deal of drama and beauty in the sport of free diving. Long tracking shots follow Umberto as he glides over the rough Mediterranean ocean floor, swims through dark rocky passages and joins up with a pod of dolphins that welcome him to the their crew. Some of the unedited swimming sequences are shocking; it is never far from the mind that Umberto is doing all of this on a single breath. The camera is also close on Pipin’s tortured face as he rockets down to previously unimaginable depths. Instructive computer graphics appear during the dive and give agonizing details as to the beating that Pipin’s internal organs are taking (lungs crumpled to the size of oranges . . .).
The filmmakers do not attempt to manufacture an intense, heated rivalry between Pipin and Umberto - in fact, they do not even appear on screen competing against one another. There is a solitude to this sport and each man recognizes that the only real challenge is against the limitations of self. The sport of free diving comes across as something close to a martial art: it demands a discipline of mind and body that is close to pure grace.
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