REVIEW: Dive (2022)

Perhaps it is chance, and perhaps there really is a trend going on. In the past month or so I have seen three great 2022 feature films. Each of them has featured outstanding lead performances by a number of women. Each has taken as its inspiration real-life incidents of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse by powerful men against women. They are, each of them, coming from a different country and culture: Fernando Guzzoni’s Blanquita is from Chile, Maria Schrader’s She Said from the USA, and now Lucía Puenzo’s Dive – recently released to Amazon Prime – stems from Mexico. They tell different stories in different circumstances, but all of them to a fault treat their subject matter with intelligence, sensitivity, and a great emotional impact.

These are important stories to be told, but they can be difficult – even harrowing – territory for an audience to explore. For three to come along so close to one another risks one or more being overlooked or unfairly ignored. I have written recently on how much I valued She Said and Blanquita. The same plaudits are owed to Dive. This is an excellent feature, and a story powerfully told.

30 year-old competitive diver Mariel (Karla Souza) has one final shot at winning an Olympic gold medal. When injury takes her synchronised diving partner out of contention, Mariel’s coach Braulio (Hernán Mendoza) replaces them with Nadia (Dèja Ebergenyi), a 14 year-old diving prodigy with an uncanny similarity to Mariel at the start of her career. At first Mariel bristles with jealousy, fearing she is about to be replaced. Then Nadia’s mother (Fernanda Borches) accuses Braulio of molesting her daughter, and Mariel must decide who to believe.

Mariel is the strongest element of Dive: a fallible and unreliable protagonist, she self-sabotages her chances at success with a combination of medication, alcohol, and anonymous sex. As a diver, her career peaked early and has left her fighting to recover long-lost potential before age and injury take her out of competition altogether. She is well played by Karla Souza, who ably achieves a balance between playing a deeply troubled, often unreasonable character, and keeping her deeply sympathetic.

The film is dominated by Mariel’s relationship with Braulio. He is a talented, widely respected coach. He discovered Mariel at 15 years old, and has been a dominant father figure for half of her life. Dive makes a bold choice in maintaining its ambivalence. Nadia’s mother Irene believes Braulio is abusing Nadia. Not only does Braulio deny it, Nadia does as well. Which story is Mariel to believe?

Hernán Mendoza is great as Braulio. Like Souza, Mendoza’s performance has to balance between two potential outcomes. He is warm, enthusiastic, and clearly committed to his divers. He maintains his innocence, and it would be easy to believe him. At the same time, he seems a little too close to his young charges, and a little too tactile with them. It honestly feels like the truth could go either way.

In the end Mariel’s struggle to make peace with her failures become intertwined with her desire to protect Nadia. This combination ensures Dive transcends being solely about one issue and becomes a powerful character drama as well. Like all films that involve issues of sexual abuse, Dive can be a challenging experience. At the same time it is as powerful as it is rewarding. Make time for it.

Dive is currently streaming on Amazon Prime in the USA and Australia.

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