IF THERE IS ONE DIVING FILM that’s a must-see this year it’s Diving into the Unknown, a Finnish documentary about a cave-diving body recovery, due for release in the UK in mid-June.
It is based around four experienced Finnish divers. Three of them are diving the Plurdalen cave in northern Norway in February 2014 when two other friends drown, 130m down in the system.
The three are fortunate to escape. One has been bent; another, though closely involved in the subsequent story, has clearly suffered considerable mental trauma.
An official Norwegian and British recovery operation is called off after being deemed too dangerous by the authorities, and the system is sealed.
So in March the three, plus another friend, decide to launch their own clandestine recovery bid.
They invite along for their illicit ride the film crew, which had originally been with them to shoot a very different documentary, about an attempt to break the longest cave-dive world record. After the deaths that project had been put on hold.
So the team consists of 14 Finns and 11 Norwegians, and they have to go to some lengths to avoid detection by the police as they prepare for the challenging dive.
There are two ways into the 2km cave system: the Plura entrance beside a lake and Steinugleflåget dry cave, accessible only by snowmobile. The water is between 2 and 4°C and the system is characterised by tight passages and sharp rocks.
The team have to get 1100kg of gear to the Plura, where the divers plan to enter, cut the victims out of their gear as quickly as possible, and get back within seven hours.
With footage already available from the fatal dive, the director was able to place cameras at the surface and down with the divers and track their mission all the way from the planning stages to its conclusion.
What I found amazing in an 85-minute subtitled film is how soon we seem to get to know the protagonists, and to feel that we have an insight into their characters.
It isn’t all gloom either, because they can still crack jokes and send each other up, but this is a true band of brothers film about the complex psychology and interdependency of cave-divers.
There is a haunting quality about the way it’s shot that seems to owe something to the Nordic Noir thriller genre, though there is no phoney sensationalism about it. But the lighting, close-ups, sound and high definition contribute to a piece of work that seems to blur the line between fact and fiction.
Director Juan Reina was not a diver, and though he had made many documentaries Diving into the Unknown is his first full-length feature. He had been enthused about caves by Diving in the Dark, the book about the systems beneath Budapest. Its authors introduced him to the Finnish group.
Reina has handled the unusual and unexpected situation in which he found himself with appropriate sensitivity, and the editing must be commended for propelling us so effectively into these divers’ lives.
“The idea of going to any lengths to bring your friends home is certainly noble, but this story is even more complex than that,” says Reina. “Ultimately it asks the question: Is this something that’s worth dying for?”
For the friends there can be only one answer to that question. This is one diving film that cannot be criticised for lack of authenticity.
UK release: Mid-June 2016. 85min