Nine for IX: No Limits (2013)

Directed by Alison Ellwood

As humans, we can often find an odd sense of comfort in the unknown. Perhaps not everybody. Some are terrified of the unknown, they must know all there is to be comfortable. But that wonderful sensation of not knowing everything there is to know about a place, a person, a situation, it gives me a great sense of life, a jolt through my system, a tremendous feeling. Reaching out into the depths of the vast ocean and living life on the edge is how Pipin Ferreras has lived his life as a free diver. When the list of films was released for this film, I was infinitely interested. I have no knowledge of the sport of free diving, or any of its talented, famous athletes who are shown in this film. That bit of unknown if what made it so intriguing.

Pipin was world class in his sport, free diving, which included being rapidly sunk into the blue ocean by a weighted sled, diving to great depths on a single breath. A Cuban by birth, Pipin was a pioneer in the sport, even creating his own rival rules commission when he found the current one to not be to his satisfaction. The sport is dangerous, taking the lives even of a few safety divers, but that comes with the territory of being an extreme sport. I went snowboarding once and got hurt enough to have incredible respect for extreme athletes (I also question their sanity right along with respecting them). To each their own one supposes, passion is passion, and I am always fascinated and enthralled to hear of the passion of another. Tanya Streeter, whose 160m dive is the women’s world record, even calls downhill skiers nuts. But it is the story of another female free diver that director Alison Ellwood is interested in, that of Audrey Mestre, the French wife of Pipin, who tragically died attempting to break Streeter’s record.

I have found through my examination of the ESPN Films catalogue that the vast majority of their documentary films exist as brief summaries of littler known sports events or people, never diving deep enough to fill a whole, completely realized film, but rather enough to educate the audience on something they may have never heard about. Then, every so often, there is a miraculous film that captures the magic of a moment, or of a story. Like the best films of the original 30 for 30 series, and one or two of the subsequent films, No Limits is that miraculous film, managing to be the perfect blend of interesting sports story and compelling human drama, captured together perfectly by director Alison Ellwood, with just enough compassion and inquisition.

There are two elements to this story that immediately jumped out at me and impressed me. The first is the compelling human drama of the relationship between Pipin and Audrey. Pipin, much older than Audrey, is shown as being a bit arrogant, always doing things his way. Audrey on the other hand seems much more mysterious, like a beautiful mermaid whom we only get a brief glimpse of before she disappears again into the deep. Almost aiding the film’s mystery is the fact that neither are interviewed for the film. Mestre, of course, because she has passed, but Pipin more due to the mysterious elements surrounding his wife’s death, many of which seem to point to him as either being culpable or directly responsible for her death.

The second element was one of the best, most thrilling sequences the ESPN Films documentaries has managed to produce in its history. When it comes time to document Mestre’s fateful dive, Ellwood pulls out all the stops and gives it to us in real-time, split screen madness, showing us everything while supplementing it with gripping commentary from a few of the safety divers and others who had knowledge of the dive. It is not often in this hour long format that I come across a film that I want more of, that I feel could benefit from even more time spent investigating the story. I was certainly left wanting more at the conclusion of this one, however. I wanted more of the story of Pipin and Audrey. I wanted more about the investigation into her death. No Limits is a thrilling experience, and a great film. I think if it was extended out to 80-90 minutes, it could be even better.

***1/2 – Great


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