In 2019, directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi kept the world in suspense with Free Solo. Their documentary filmed the insane exploits of mountaineer Alex Honnold, the first to free climb, without tethers or harnesses, the 3,000-foot-high El Capitan Wall in Yosemite Valley. An Oscar later, the duo signs an equally striking and suspenseful portrait with their first feature film, Unsinkable. Their biopic, available on Netflix, traces the prowess of endurance swimmer Diana Nyad. In 2010, at the age of 61, the ex-athlete and sports journalist decided to swim from Cuba to Miami. A challenge on which she had broken her teeth at the age of 28.
The impossible has the features of Annette Bening. The star of American Beauty makes Nyad's self-sacrifice palpable, the superhuman physical efforts that neither exhaustion, nor the cold, nor the hallucinations, nor the deadly jellyfish can exhaust. Everything is read on his face burned by the sun and the salt. Annette Bening does not hide any wrinkles or imperfections. The actress trained for a year under the guidance of a former Olympic swimmer, sculpting her body, spending four to six hours in the pools to be able to stay in the water for half a day once she arrived on set. in the Dominican Republic.
“Like Nyad, she discovered the meditative virtues of long-distance swimming. His determination amazed us and allowed us to be much more ambitious with our filming plan. She had a lot of trouble with the anti-jellyfish mask which was making her gag. It took her days to ask us to make a hole in her lips. Despite the fatigue and this discomfort, she found time to make conversation with everyone,” admires Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.
His Nyad is not a lone wolf. She has the support of her trainer and best friend Bonnie (the wonderful and all too rare Jodie Foster on display next January in the fourth season of True Detective). This complicity is the beating heart of the film. “ It is rare to show a purely platonic relationship between two homosexual women of this age, representative of a generation who have reconstituted a family of the heart. We don't care who dated who. We are always there for each other,” notes Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.
Unsinkable, which could make waves at the Oscars and in the awards season, questions female performance, the memory of the body. What happens when, attempt after attempt, he repeats his failures? What secret hides such relentlessness? “No person imposes such a challenge, such a level of discipline and pain on themselves, without often complex reasons. Each breaststroke reveals a little more of his psyche. If at the start, Nyad is running away from something, in the end she heads towards a new horizon: Bonnie, the team of experts and sailors who accompany her, because she understands that such a feat cannot be achieved alone,” underlines Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. And added: “The world has cast her aside, considers her to be thrown away. But she has all but finished dreaming, she has just woken up. His destiny reminds us that it is never too late to achieve what is important to us and to truly be yourself. The important thing is to surround yourself well, to find your support system. »
Added to this vibrant portrait is a hypnotic art of filming the waves that the heroine navigates. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi cites The Odyssey of Pi and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly as points of reference. The ocean becomes a character in its own right, seems to change texture according to the heroine's moods: repelling its mermaid or welcoming it into its bosom without resistance. A barrier to break down as much as a protective cocoon or mischievous play partner. Nyad's movements may be repetitive, but the camera is not and constantly engages the viewer's senses.