Synopsis: A young woman competes in free diving and dates an abusive man. (Streaming on Netflix as of September 2022)
No Limit takes us into the world of freediving. And walks us through an abusive relationship. Roxana is a young and gifted water sport enthusiast. Pascal is a combative and gnarled-looking world champion freediver. Together they will test the limits of their sport and their toxic relationship. I’m guessing that the problem will be that there is no limit to their recklessness.
Freediving, like the better-known open water sport of surfing, is an extreme sport where danger stalks the athlete. Surfers risk life & limb dodging sharks and getting tossed by gargantuan waves. Free divers risk their bodies imploding.
Basically, the sport consists of going as far down in the water as possible on one breath. I thought that the athletes swim down & back up, but the movie shows them being zoomed down a line to the target depth on a little sled then rocketing back up on a jet of air. Apparently, there are several disciplines of apnea (not breathing) events. One event is Static Apnea wherein the extreme athlete/lunatic holds their breath for as long as they can underwater in a pool surpassing ten minutes at a time! No Limit (the name of the movie!) diving is what is shown in the movie.
Not surprisingly, since humans are land mammals without gills, flippers or even webbed feet like a cute otter, our bodies are in stress attempting deep dives on one breath. Besides the stress of not breathing in oxygen for an average of two minutes, as the freediver/maniac descends, water pressure begins to crush into the body, shrinking lung size.
But it’s not all bad news-no! As the spleen gets smushed, it squeezes out ever more blood cells to carry oxygen to the places you really need it, like your brain, while it slows oxygen flow to your extremities. Also, the heart rate slows down, in a desperate automatic reflex to keep you alive until you regain your senses and turn back to the surface. Btw, while researching the sport online I saw a popular question: Is freediving good for anxiety? Re-read this paragraph and tell me what you think.
Okay, so, Roxana (Camille Rowe) is a French college student who decides to expand upon her longtime love of swimming and snorkeling in the ocean. One minute, she is attending a lecture on the deep seas– the weird fish! the crushing pressure of the ocean! Five minutes later we see her traveling on a train to the South of France. We get that she is a free spirit and adventurer because she spent her last euro on a freediving course and is unfazed by having to sleep on the beach and, I guess, scrounge around for tourists’ leftovers.
On the first day of the freediving course, we see Roxana on a dive boat with the other students. Tom (César Domboy), a really cute and sweet-seeming instructor, helps her with the basics. Knowing she’s broke, he says he’ll ask a hostel-managing friend of his for a favor. FYI, Roxana is absolutely gorgeous and has no body fat.
Besides practical instruction, the course has a spiritual one-with-the-ocean vibe. One instructor asks the students if they know the best part of freediving? Blank faces. He whispers: the peace. Yes, I think that might be a sensation just before one blacks out due to lack of oxygen.
Anyway, who’s this? Mon Dieu, it’s someone dramatically arriving on a jet ski. The instructors cry out: Pascal! Pascal is the world champion freediver! Everyone is impressed when he gets onboard. Pascal shouts things at the students like: Every movement is a waste of energy! (So true.)
Besides being a champion freediver, Pascal seems to be a champion womanizer. He scans the group and his eyes settle on pretty Roxana. She flashes him a smile. Pascal shouts that he will toss off, like an 80 m dive. After awing everyone with a deep dive, he pops to the surface and offers to work personally with Roxana.
At the end of the day, Tom the not-world-record-holding diver, invites Roxana to meet up with the dive group at an outdoor bar. When she shows up to the group’s table, creepy Pascal is telling an unfunny story about his competitive vodka drinking with some Russians. Pascal gives Roxana a hungry look. She excuses herself to go to the restroom. And red flag #1– Pascal follows her into the bathroom stall. He kisses her, then they have sex. No condoms in sight, of course, because Pascal and Roxana are wild like the sea and there are no condoms in the sea. Well, there probably are what with global pollution.
Anyhow, Pascal and the team leader, Stephane (Laurent Fernndez), a seasoned diving veteran, tells Roxana that she is an unbelievably gifted diver. Pascal says the same thing to her. I guess this will explain how in a matter of weeks, Roxana is poised to break world records. With Pascal as her coach-lover.
The days go by in a flurry of deep dives and vigorous standing intercourse. Pascal is always shouting things like: I am going for a new record! While his dive team implores him: It’s too dangerous! At one point, he consults a doctor about blackouts and the doctor cries: You take too many risks! In response, Pascal gives a Gallic shrug and smirks, saying: This is my life!
Pascal reveals himself to be a total a-hole within weeks. He throws tantrums at competitions when he’s not allowed to break the rules and tells Roxana she is nothing without him.
During the day, Roxana holds us all in suspense while she goes ever deeper, striving for new records. At night, Pascal taunts her and refuses to get consent from her before he chokes her out during sex.
Even though she dumbly continues to thank her abuser publicly for being her coach, I was hoping she was building up some resolve to leave him when she stared at herself in a mirror long and hard. I love it when characters in movies do this, like: Who am I? What have I become?
I was getting pretty impatient with director David M. Rosenthal’s vigilant straight male gaze. His story isn’t interested in Roxana’s character as an athlete or abused woman. When questioned by a leering male reporter as to what it’s like to be a sex symbol, she just giggles. In fact, she doesn’t say much about why she cares about competing in freediving. Instead, it’s just like, She’s a hot mess!
But in spite of myself, I wanted to find out what would happen. And the musical score told me that the danger was building to a breaking point. No Limit would probably sacrifice someone to the sea. But would it be Pascal or Roxana? Maybe even nice guy, Tom or crusty old Stephane?
One thing is for sure, no one should’ve joined the toxic Cult of Pascal no matter how many meters he could dive. No, not even when he declared he would plunge 180 m beneath the sea.
I knew his no limit philosophy was bad news when he told Roxana that at least they weren’t “living some stupid bougie life.” (The bougie life I aspire to uphold is not stupid, Pascal!) When she didn’t immediately agree, he punched a mirror. That was red flag # 20,000, Roxy.
**MORE OCEAN MOVIES** Check out these Movie Loon reviews:
The beautiful and moving documentary My Octopus Teacher
and the legendary Jaws
P.S. The current freediving record of 253 m (830 ft) is held by Herbert Nitsch. It’s worth noting that right after the 2012 dive, he suffered serious decompression sickness.
P.P.S. For a rundown of diving disciplines click here.
Diving records with footage .
P.P.S.S. The No Limit plot was “Inspired by real events.” The jumping off point was most likely based on world record-setting freediver Audrey Mestre.