Descent Review: Freediving from the depths of the human psyche to its peaks | Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review | Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review | SWITCH.




By Charlie David Page
21st June 2020

I know the peace and beauty that can be found beneath the surface of the ocean. I've been scuba diving for around a decade now, and I can safely say there's nothing more tranquil and relaxing than heading below the waves. That doesn't mean, however, I have anywhere near the guts to try what Kiki Bosch does; she's a freediver whose love of cold water has offered her a unique way to cope with stress and anxiety. The documentary 'Descent' gives us a candid glimpse at her passion for freediving in below-freezing conditions - but it's not without its own pitfalls.

The film allows Kiki to tell her own story; she takes us on her personal journey from swimming to scuba to freediving. After a traumatic sexual assault, she found it impossible to move on from the ordeal, let alone get back in the water - that is, until she stumbled onto Wim Hof (A.K.A. The Iceman) and his fascination with swimming in cold water. "My mind just shut off," Kiki explains. "For the first moment in months, I wasn't ruminating about the past any more."

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From here, she journeys to Iceland to swim unfettered in water as low as 2°C (36°F) with nothing more than a one-piece swimsuit for protection, beneath a 40cm (16in) layer of ice on a frozen lake in Finland, and amongst Greenland's icebergs at temperatures of -2°C (28°F). The obsession continues, and as she develops a degree of notoriety for her wild ways, she sets out to break world records - but the challenge proves to be more difficult than she could ever imagine.

This is a tale not just of the endurance of the human body, but of the mind and spirit. Kiki is a wonderfully inspiring individual with a truly charming personality. She talks very candidly about the ups and downs of her life, and is extremely insightful about the freediving experience. Short of diving in yourself, this documentary is the best way to comprehend what it's like.

Beautifully capturing these dangerous conditions, you sense both the serenity and the very real risk at hand.

That's assisted greatly by the film's cinematography. Beautifully capturing these dangerous conditions, you sense both the serenity and the very real risk at hand. Director Nays Baghai and Australian underwater videographer Stefan Andrews (who also appears in the documentary) provide a truly heart-racing experience with some of the sequences.

There are, however, a few situations where the lower budget of the film becomes apparent. Most disappointing is Kiki's master interview; the table she's seated at is distractingly messy and the shot is very poorly lit, which is in extreme contrast to the gorgeous underwater shots, and really brings down the production value for the documentary. This is partly forgiven thanks to the poetry with which Kiki speaks about her experiences.

'Descent' might take you to some of the lowest moments in the human psyche, but it's also a celebration of its most triumphant peaks. Kiki Bosch is captured as an everyday person who does extraordinary things, offering hope to others who might be missing something revelatory in their lives. Beautifully shot and wonderfully articulated, this documentary will take you deep below the surface, send shivers down your spine, and fill you with a warmth from within.

Looking for more Melbourne Documentary Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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