The newest French romance-sports drama “No Limit” follows the film direction of David M. Rosenthal and is a slow-burner, yet appropriately reveals its intentions behind the ominous ending that no one expected. However, its romantic facet is barely felt despite the attempt to fill its void with stunning visuals, multi-second banters, and steamy nudity.
Even though No Limit (Sous Emprise in French) was inspired by the tragic real-life events of Audrey Mestre who passed away on October 12, 2002, while attempting to break the 171-meter world-record No Limit dive, the film specifically draws the line claiming it’s purely fictional.
Before we dive into the deep void that paved the way for Pascal Gauthier (Sofiane Zermani) and Roxana Aubrey’s (Camille Rowe) interesting power dynamics, it’s crucial to understand how these characters were established in the film.
[Warning: Some spoilers ahead]
In the opening scene, Roxana’s traumatic childhood is immediately introduced from the shot of her younger self with a slit wrist. Standing beside her is her grandfather who taught her spearfishing–this creates the narrative that her natural connection with the deep sea allowed her to easily transcend the extreme and death-defying sport of free-diving.
A glimpse of Roxana’s fragile and impulsive nature is slowly revealed from the bits of interaction with her mother who is constantly anxious and uneasy about her life choices—from quitting her therapy sessions, ditching school to travel with a world champion whom she just met, to competing in the sport herself shortly after.
If you were to pay attention to the dialogue, other than Pascal Gauthier’s world-record-breaking reputation, his power-hungry and apathetic air is foreshadowed by how his trainer and co-instructor describes him to Roxana during their first and last session as instructor and student (Yup, it was that fast)—“It’s his ability to stay calm” and “his extraordinary threshold for pain”.
Despite his team losing one of their divers during their first practice before setting the new 172-meter record–a quick, dark turn that emphasize how terribly risky the sport is–empathy was the last thing seen on his face. It’s as if he’s even frustrated by the fact that his spotlight for a successful run was stolen by the panic of his team trying to save a life.
To make things worse, Pascal and Roxana’s first “romantic” interaction was an immediate erotic ambush in the ladies’ bathroom while he was still involved with another woman.
Is the plot worth the dive?
There’s no denying how visually riveting Thomas Hardmeier (Director of Photography) made No Limit out to be.
The contrast between the warm summer strolls on the shore, quaint streets, and nightlife, from the unsettling coldness of the deep oblivion while the divers find their way through a single source of light or string. Truly makes you stare at the screen feeling uneasy as they make their way up to the surface with only a single breath to hold on to.
For someone who knows nothing of the sports’ technicalities, the film’s elaborate focus on the different categories, safety measures, and the physiological intensity it warrants, truly took the best of my curiosity. However, it became repetitive and monotonous a few times after the scenes in and out of the water started to look the same.
Was I rooting for a better “romance” arc to justify its genre designation? Definitely.
Roxana’s affection towards Pascal was simply painful to watch. With the lack of foundation for this “couple”, it was right off the bat abusive, manipulative, and a give-and-take banter in the worst way possible—giving you no reason to believe their romantic connection.
As confusing as it was to see how love-struck, co-dependent, and submissive Roxana became towards Pascal, who basically used her to extend his fleeting career as a world champion, it is an accurate depiction of what an abusive relationship can look like.
“Below it, the world of water, the world of depth, and pressure. The deeper that you go, the darker it gets, the more hostile”, as said by Roxana’s professor during the first few minutes of the film, sets the tone and gravity of obsession being at the very center of it all.
Was the ending expected? Not at all. Despite the nature of the characters revealed, not even in my pessimistic mind did I think that it would end up as messed up as it did. It will surely leave you frozen and thinking right after the credits paid respects to Audrey Mestre.
Would I recommend it if you were to ask me for an interesting romance movie? Definitely not. However, I would still see myself wanting to see how my peers would react to its novelty.
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