How long can you hold your breath underwater? Have you ever tested the limits of your abilities? Perhaps you have swum from one end of a pool to another, or dived deep to follow a sea turtle, or built up lung power for surfing. All these efforts pale in comparison to freediver Johanna Nordblad, who tackles the frigid 7C/19F waters of Finland.
No fins. No wetsuit. One breath. These are the rules for attempting to break the freediving world record for all genders, as documented in the gorgeous Netflix film Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive. The movie poster looks like a still from a horror film: a woman trapped under ice, grappling for an opening. Who would choose to plunge into such a danger, conditions that would cause many to freeze in abject terror?
Nordblad is obviously a different sort of person. In scoring the film, Galya Bisengalieva had to choose between highlighting the danger or the heroism, and chose the latter. The musical tension is less overwhelming than otherworldly: mythical in nature, like the telling of a folk legend. The use of field recordings, beginning in the very first seconds, highlights the reality of the situation. The wind howls above the ice; below, the water gurgles in a low drone.
After the overture comes a flashback, as Nordblat breaks a leg while cycling. Even “The Crash” is resolute, culminating in the sound of ice being cut, the vision at the end of therapy. Bisengalieva celebrates the athlete’s support system, the team that enables her to keep pushing no matter the odds. The violin conveys drama as the electronics provide forward motion. In “Healing,” a light choir offers the first mini-triumph. “Rebuilding” is hopeful, positive, determined.
The album and score build to “The Dive;” as the length of the track exposes a plot point in the film. Six years prior to this attempt, Nordblat had a certified breath hold of six minutes and thirty-five seconds. Imagine holding your breath for two consecutive songs on the radio. Now imagine doing it underwater. Now imagine needing to cut holes in the ice to even get in the water. Nordblad will not need this much time, but she will need more time than she had imagined, chasing a new world record set only twelve days before.
The artist channels the athlete by scoring protagonist more than plot. She weaves her way through Nordblad’s emotions as the freediver moves through water: slowly, purposefully, stretching toward a goal. As a result, the story and the sound are as fluid as the aquamarine sea. (Richard Allen)