The French free-divers and directors Julie Gautier and Guillaume Néry are responsible for some of the most captivating underwater filmmaking ever recorded. Under the banner of their production company Les films engloutis (or ‘engulfed films’), they’ve harnessed their unique talents as world-class free-divers and directors to explore the vast beauty of hidden underwater worlds. With a handheld visual style, their films often place a human body in the sublime grandeur of ocean landscapes, including the remarkable creatures that inhabit them.
Like much of the married duo’s work, Gautier’s short Ama (2017) employs impressive artistry, physicality and technical skill to immerse viewers in otherworldly subaquatic physics. But here, with Gautier performing a dance in pristine water in front of tiled walls, she summons beauty from human expression rather than the greater natural world. At the bottom of the deepest diving pool on Earth, Gautier performs choreography that conveys elegance, strength and a mastery of underwater movement in a spellbinding sequence edited as if she had performed it in a single deep breath.
Gautier keeps her inspirations for the piece mostly hidden, writing: ‘There is no imposition, only suggestions. I wanted to share my biggest pain in this life with this film. For this is not too crude, I covered it with grace. To make it not too heavy, I plunged it into the water.’ The title, Ama, is a term for the women who practise the ancient Japanese tradition of free-diving for pearls and seafood, perhaps hinting at the roots of feminine strength beneath the sea. But, ultimately, Gautier’s work remains enigmatic – and wholly mesmerising – by design.
Written by Adam D’Arpino
Director and dancer: Julie Gautier
Producer: Les films engloutis
Choreographer: Ophélie Longuet
Cinematographer: Jacques Ballard