french films > The Big Blue

The Big Blue

The Big Blue

The Big Blue

cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jean-Marc Barr, Jean Bouise, Sergio Castellitto, Jean Reno, Paul Shenar

year: 1988

colour: no

certificate: 15

director: Luc Besson

runtime: 132

A hit in Europe but a flop in the US--where it was trimmed, rescored, and given a new ending--Luc Besson's The Big Blue has endured as a minor cult classic for its gorgeous photography (both on land and underwater) and dreamy ambiance. Jean-Marc Barr is a sweet and sensitive but passive presence as Jacques, a diver with a unique connection to the sea. He has the astounding ability to slow his heartbeat and his circulation on deep dives, "a phenomenon that's only been observed in whales and dolphins until now," remarks one scientist. Kooky New York insurance adjuster Joanna (Rosanna Arquette at her most delightfully flustered and endearingly sexy best) melts after falling into his innocent baby blues, and she follows him to Italy, where he's continuing a lifelong competition with boyhood rival Enzo (Jean Reno in a performance both comic and touching).

Besson's first English-language production looks more European than Hollywood, and it suffers from a tin ear for the language. At times it feels more like an IMAX undersea documentary than a drama about free divers, but the lush and lovely images create a fairy tale dimension to Jacques's story, a veritable Little Merman. More dolphin than man, he's so torn between earthly love and aquatic paradise that even his dreams call him to the sea (in a sequence more eloquent than any speech).

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