'My Life Without Air': Film Review | Hot Docs

My Life Without Air Still - Publicity - H 2017
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Lyrical and visually poetic, but far from breathless.

Bojana Burnac's documentary profiles world champion free-diver Goran Colak.

Try holding your breath as you start reading this. The odds are that you’ll have given up long before you get to the end of the review. Such would definitely not be the case for Coran Golak, the Croatian world champion free-diver profiled in Bojana Burnac’s lyrical and yet curiously lifeless documentary My Life Without Air, which recently received its world premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs.

Lacking narration or indeed much in the way of dialogue, the film begins with an arresting sequence: Golak submerged in a tank while a crowd watches and his trainer stands in the water next to him. As the minutes tick by, the spectators become increasingly tense, with a little boy plaintively asking, “When will he stop?” The trainer, as if comforting a wounded porpoise, gently touches Golak’s back, offering such suggestions as “Don’t let the air out.” By the time Golak lifts his face out of the water, apparently none the worse for wear, he’s held his breath for 22½ minutes.

We don’t actually hear Golak speak until nearly the half-way point of the documentary, but we do see him extensively training, receiving a massage and shaving his head (presumably to enhance his hydrodynamics). One gorgeous sequence depicts him in an underwater swimming competition, as he propels himself through the water using only his legs and looking as graceful as a dolphin.

Despite his soft-spoken demeanor, Golak clearly takes pride in his accomplishments. “I’m the alpha here,” he says about his role in his chosen profession. The most we hear from him is when he talks to an official about the logistics of taking ownership of the new luxury car he’s just won in a competition. Golak does describe his early years, describing a harrowing childhood episode when he almost drowned after blacking out while holding his breath. In the sort of irony that’s catnip for documentary filmmakers, Golak suffers from sleep apnea, meaning that without treatment he would often be as deprived of air while asleep.

His dedication is illustrated in such scenes as when he matter-of-factly leans over a bathtub, coughing up the blood that’s collected in his lungs. At another point, he laboriously trudges through a frozen forest, breathing through a snorkel and accompanied by his loyal trainer.

But for all its evocative imagery, the film fails to provide much informational context, either about the exotic sport or the people, including Golak, who compete in it. Visually poetic but often feeling as air-deprived as its shaven-headed subject, My Life Without Air would have benefited from more narrative oxygen.

Production: Restart
Director/director of photography: Bojana Burnac
Producer: Oliver Sertic
Executive producer: Tibor Keser
Editor: Jelena Maksimovic
Venue: Hot Docs

73 minutes