The Big Blue

on August 19, 1988 by BOXOFFICE Staff
   "The Big Blue" is an unusually strange and haunting romantic comedy from Luc Besson, the 29-year-old French writer/director who gave us the unusually strange and haunting romantic comedy "Subway" in 1986. It is also Besson's first film in English.

   The good news here is that Besson's machete-like minimalist/new wave sense of humor has survived the translation completely intact, as have his penchant for unusual, incendiary, funny characters; his clean, swashbuckling camerawork; and his aptitude for fast, generous storytelling. The not-so-good news is that as leading cinematic visionaries go, Besson is still among the most peculiar. While this attribute will endear "Blue" to legions of Bessionites, it could spell big trouble for the film's American boxoffice.

   Rosanna Arquette plays Joanna Cross, a New York-based insurance investigator who falls in love virtually at first sight with Jacques Mayol (Jean-Marc Barr), a strange, almost ethereal young man she runs into while checking out a claim on a frozen lake in Peru. She is so intrigued with Mayol that she convinces her boss (Griffin Dunne, who does wonders with but a single, inspired minute of screen time) to send her to Europe to solve a non-existent corporate crisis. Once there, she fakes a "coincidental" run-in with Mayol, and the romance, such as it is, is off and running.

   Mayol, who has the ability to hold his breath underwater for improbable lengths of time, has journeyed to Sicily to participate in an international free diving competition, a lunatic event in which men drag themselves hundreds of feet underwater without breathing apparatuses. He who goes deepest wins.

   The movie's main problem is newcomer Barr, who plays Mayol with such a zen-like lack of emotion that the character is almost devoid of definition. Where Christopher Lambert exhibited transcendental coolness in "Subway," Barr comes off as a block of solid, impenetrable ice; whatever sense we get of the character tends to come from the reaction shots of those around him, or Carlo Varini's dramatic camerawork.

   Far more interesting is Jean Reno's large, dazzling portrait of Mayol's smirkingly arrogant, charmingly belligerent rival, the blustery, gifted Enzo Molinari, who is bent on beating Mayol's estimable free-diving record. Reno's dashing, witty personality blows Barr off the screen.

   Another key dilemma is the movie's downbeat ending. Still, the film contains a propulsive narrative and is quite engrossing for the most part, with moments one just isn't likely to find anywhere else--a sharp piece of cinema, but one likely doomed to an arthouse purgatory.    Starring Rosanna Arquette, Jean-Marc Barr, Jean Reno, Paul Shenar and Griffin Dunne. Directed by Luc Besson. Written by Luc Besson and Robert Garland. Produced by Patrice LeDoux. A Columbia release. Romantic Comedy/Drama. Rated PG. Running time: 117 min.

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