must be the most depressing caper movie in the history of cinema. In February
2014, two Finnish scuba divers died while exploring the underwater Plura caves in
the frozen north of Norway. Less than two months later, their four surviving
comrades led a mission to recover their bodies. Juan Reina documented this grim
operation in Diving into the Unknown (trailer here), which screens
during DOC NYC 2016.
the Plura divers were experienced and none could be described as reckless.
Perhaps they did not fully understand the degree of difficulty of those
particular caves. That would prove fatal when minor complications suddenly
exploded into full-fledged tragedy. Teams of Norwegian and British divers tried
to retrieve the bodies, but to no avail. At that point, the local police called
off the recovery efforts and declared the caves off-limits to civilian divers.
risking possible arrest, Patrik Grönqvist, Vesa Rantanen, Kai Känkänen, and
Sami Paakkarinen return, with reinforcements, hoping to bring back the bodies and
a bit of closure for their families. As fate would have it, the Finns were
filming their deadly February dive, so viewers will see a good deal of what
transpired in Plura. However, the step-by-step mechanics of the tragedy and
subsequent recovery remain murky. Frankly, it is often difficult to make out
just what is happening on-screen.
contrast, Reina skillfully employs graphics to explain to viewers just where
the April 2014 party is within the cave system and how deep they are below sea
level. As a result, we definitely have a sense of the danger they are facing.
We just have no idea whether they are proceeding according to plan.
many respects, the stiff-upper lip stoicism of the Finnish divers is admirable,
but it does not do Reina any dramatic favors. We quickly come to admire their
loyalty and resolve, yet there is no getting around the fact we are watching a
group of inherently reserved and deeply depressed men quietly wrestling with
Most viewers will easily understand why Reina
was compelled to chronicle the divers’ efforts. It is also nice to see the
virtues embodied by the Finns represented on-screen. Nevertheless, it is a visually
and figuratively dark viewing experience. If you have a taste for existentially
downbeat films, then Diving into the
Unknown will be your catnip when it screens tomorrow (11/17), as part of
DOC NYC 2016.
Labels: DOC NYC '16, Documentary, Scandinavian Cinema