Netflix Movie Inspired by True Story Did Not Accuse Diver of Murder, Judge Rules

A judge has sided with Netflix in a legal conflict launched by a famous diver, who claimed that a movie inspired by his life falsely accused him of murder.

Judge Bruce G. Iwasaki granted Netflix’s motion to throw out the lawsuit Tuesday, finding that the diver, Pipin Ferreras, could not prove that the fictional film was about him.

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“No Limit” was released on Netflix in September 2022. It tells a story “inspired by real events” of a couple, Pascal Gautier and Roxana Aubrey, who engage in free diving, plunging to extreme depths without an oxygen supply. Roxana dies on a record attempt, with the clear implication that Pascal has sabotaged her equipment.

Ferreras sued for defamation last year, alleging that the film amounted to an accusation that he had killed his wife. Audrey Mestre drowned during a free dive in 2002. Ferreras, who supervised the dive, has since faced intense criticism over his safety practices.

Ferreras is never mentioned in the movie, which includes a standard disclaimer that it is a work of fiction and that “any resemblance with reality is coincidental.” However, the film ends with a tribute to Mestre, displaying a title card with her photo and a one-sentence account of her death.

Netflix filed a motion to throw out the lawsuit in November, arguing that while the film was inspired, in part, by Mestre’s story, it was not meant to be a literal account of her death.

The writer-director, David M. Rosenthal, said in a court declaration that he learned of Mestre’s story by watching an ESPN documentary; he then read more articles and books about the case. But Rosenthal said he was also inspired by “Le Grand Bleu,” a 1988 film about rival free divers directed by Luc Besson, as well as by films and novels depicting dangerous romantic relationships.

“The film was not intended to depict any particular person, but rather explores my imaginings of how a particularly toxic relationship might unravel in a unique, high-pressure environment like the world of no limit free diving,” Rosenthal wrote.

Rosenthal said that, like everyone else, he does not know the true cause of Mestre’s death and did not intend to weigh in on that controversy. He said he included the tribute to Mestre to honor her, but not to indicate that the film depicted her life story.

He also argued that the film’s ending is “intentionally vague,” as the viewer is left to decide whether Pascal killed Roxana or not.

“The drama created by uncertainty is far greater than any created by an obvious villain,” he wrote.

The judge disagreed with that, finding there was no ambiguity about whether the character of Pascal was to blame. But Iwasaki also held that Pascal was not the real-life Ferreras — and that therefore the film is not defamatory.

“No reasonable viewer would find that the Film portrayed Plaintiff,” the judge wrote.

Iwasaki wrote that many of the parallels between the movie and Ferreras’ life story would be common to any movie about free diving. And he found significant differences, noting that the abusive and controlling relationship depicted in the film bears no resemblance to Ferreras’ account of a harmonious marriage.

Ferreras’ attorney, Alexander Rufus-Isaacs, said he would appeal. He has argued there are 22 similarities between the fictional portrayal and the true story, making it abundantly clear that the film is about his client.

“I think this is one of the strongest libel-in-fiction cases I’ve come across,” he said.

Rufus-Isaacs has also sued Netflix on behalf of real-life figures represented in “Inventing Anna” and “The Queen’s Gambit.”

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