Dust off your DVDs – Rachelle Atkins Reviews Luc Besson’s Classic

Every month, Films You Forgot will dust off a classic movie from the DVD cupboard and review it as a fan would, reliving all the great bits that elevate a good film to greatness. We will cover a wide variety, from iconic films to watch with the kids through to romance, drama and good old fashioned action and adventure. Le Grand Bleu kicks off this month, with other favourites including The French Connection and American Beauty coming soon.

One of the most iconic and successful French films to come out of the 1980s, The Big Blue has everything a great film should have: exotic locations, a beautiful soundtrack, danger, sex, humour, comedy, and last but not least, underwater champagne drinking.

Set in various locations around the Mediterranean, Luc Besson – also known for The Fifth Element and Léon – cast Jean Reno (The Professional) as the loud and arrogant Enzo, Jean-Marc Barr (Breaking the Waves) as the quiet, sensitive and oh-so-easy on the eye Jacques and Rosanna Arquette (Desperately Seeking Susan) as the slightly annoying, love-struck American, Joanna.

Based on the true story of Jacques Mayol, the film tells the story of two childhood friends who share a passion for the sea growing up in Greece in the 1960s. Jacques, the brooding French boy, puts his passion to good use as an adult, using his diving skills to help out with research, while Enzo, the larger than life Italian, uses his skills for sometimes ill-gained profit and defending his free-diving world records.

But Enzo knows that there is someone out there who can beat him, someone from his childhood, and from the moment he says ‘Find me the Frenchman’, their intense but friendly rivalry takes control of the rest of the film. We follow the boyhood friends from Greece to Peru, the French Riviera, Sicily and back to Greece as they compete against each other, one of them as a matter of pride, the other as a way of trying to understand the mysterious hold the sea has over him. Male soul searching has never looked or sounded this good.

Along the way Jacques attracts the attention of Joanna, a kooky American insurance agent from New York, who falls madly in love with him. Jacques has never had to share his love with the sea with anyone before and their relationship becomes a competition too, with Joanna having to continually compete with the sea and the dolphins for his attention.

The underwater photography takes your breath away and leaves you breathless for almost three hours, from the helicopter shots that speed across the water to the action shots of Jacques swimming with dolphins. Okay, so the communing with dolphins and beatific grinning on the part of Jean-Marc Barr might not be to everybody’s taste but what the movie misses in the depth of some of the characters, it more than makes up for with its style and dream-like ambience.

The film’s release in the US flopped because it was Hollywood-ized, given a chirpier ending, a new score and a shorter playing time. So it’s definitely worth seeking out the re-released version that came out in 2000, with almost 50 minutes of director’s cuts added as well as the original ending and soundtrack.