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Tuesday April 23rd 2024

Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue) | 1988

The Big Blue location: Hotel San Domenico, Taormina, Sicily
The Big Blue location: the divers stay in Taormina: Hotel San Domenico, Taormina, Sicily | Photograph: gnuckx / wikimedia

Diver Jacques Mayhol (Jean-Marc Barr) has a mysterious affinity with dolphins and a friendly rivalry with fellow diver Enzo (Jean Reno), in Luc Besson’s gorgeous, if slightly pretentious, underwater epic filmed in varied locations around the world, including Greece; Sicily; France; New York; Peru; and the Virgin Islands.

The childhood home of the young Jacques Mayhol on Greece, where he’s already competing against Enzo, is Manganari, on the east coast of Ios, one of the Greek Cyclades islands, halfway between Naxos and Santorini in the Aegean Sea. In fact, Luc Besson spent part of his childhood here, and its pristine beauty was an inspiration for the film.

Jumping forward to 1988, the grown-up Enzo collects $10,000 for rescuing a trapped diver from a stranded wreck at Liveros Bay on Amorgos, the easternmost island of the Cyclades. The Olympia, a real wreck still stranded in the bay, was supposedly run aground deliberately while carrying contraband goods.

The dazzlingly white town is Chora, the island’s capital, its protected status preserving it as one of the most picturesque towns of the Cyclades, while below the town, the rocky beach is Agia Anna.

Nearby, you’ll also find the spectacular white monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa, clinging to the cliffside northeast of Chora, seen when Jacques and Enzo return to Amorgos for the ill-fated Free Diving Competition. Built to house an icon of the Virgin Mary, you can visit the monastery: but remember this is a religious retreat – ‘modest’ dress is in order for both men and women.

You can reach Amorgos by boat from the island of Santorini, which is accessible by air.

The other strand of the story sees insurance investigator Johana Baker (Rosanna Arquette) sent on an assignment to La Raya in southeastern Peru, where she first comes across the strangely distracted Mayhol at the diving research centre.

Johana arrives at the railway station of La Raya Pass, on the line between Cuzco to Lake Titicaca, the second highest railway in the world. At over 14,000 feet above sea level, La Raya commands spectacular views over the Andean plateau. Back in 1988, the line was part of Ferrocarril del Sur (Peru Southern Railway), but since 1999 it’s been PeruRail.

Johana works out of the company’s head office in New York, and she’s briefly seen readjusting to the stresses of city life in a cab crossing the Manhattan Bridge. She works out of the forbidding black hi-rise One Liberty Plaza (then the US Steel Building), 165 Broadway, just east of the World Trade Center site.

Jacques Mayhol swims with the dolphins at Marineland, 306 Avenue Mozart, in Antibes on the French Riviera, when Enzo invites him to the world diving championships, held in Taormina on the east coast of Sicily.

The luxurious Taormina hotel in which the divers stay during the competition is the historic five-star San Domenico Palace Hotel, Piazza San Domenico 5. Housed in what was a 15th century monastery, this classic hotel, with views across to Mount Etna, also features at the downbeat ending of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 classic L’Avventura.

Jacques and Johana reunite at the Carlton Hotel, now the InterContinental Carlton, 58 Boulevard de la Croisette, in Cannes on the French Riviera. Dominating the seafront, the Carlton is naturally the place to stay if you’re an A-list guest at the annual Cannes Film Festival. The grand hotel is also featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s glossy thriller To Catch A Thief.

Underwater scenes were filmed at Hurricane Hole, in the Virgin Islands National Park, in St. John, smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Hurricane Hole itself is a series of shallow bays fringing the island’s shore, protected by the roots of red mangrove trees. It’s obviously a terrific place for snorkelling, but also a fragile environment, so enjoy with care.