Pipin v Netflix: Freediver’s lawsuit thrown out – Divernet

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US-Cuban freediver Francisco ‘Pipin’ Ferreras is set to appeal, after the defamation lawsuit he had brought against streaming service Netflix was thrown out by a court on 9 April. He had claimed that the Netflix movie No Limit falsely accused him of the murder of his wife Audrey Mestre on a deep dive.

Judge Bruce G Iwasaki of the Superior Court of LA County in California granted Netflix’s motion to throw out the lawsuit. He found that although the film claimed to be inspired by real events, the diver usually known simply as Pipin, now 62, had been unable to prove that he was its subject.

Released in September 2022, No Limit deals with fictional freediving couple Pascal Gautier and Roxana Aubrey, and implies that Gautier, jealous of his partner’s success, is complicit in her death while she is attempting to set a new world depth record.

Audrey Mestre drowned in 2002 while attempting a record dive to 171m. As her dive supervisor, Pipin had carried out final checks on her equipment but had not used a pressure gauge to check the air in the tank used to inflate her lift-bag for the return to the surface by sled. 

A scuba diver stationed at her maximum depth saw Mestre trying to open the valve but her sled had failed to rise. 

Subsequent reports by the International Association of Free Divers (IAFD), set up and run by Pipin himself, concluded that Mestre’s death had been accidental. However, he continued to face intense criticism, most notably in the book The Last Attempt by former business partner Carlos Serra.

Pipin claimed that the levels of abuse had soared following the release of the French-language film No Limit. He sued Netflix, along with production company Nolita Cinema and writer-director David M Rosenthal, for defamation and invasion of privacy last March, as reported on Divernet, and the streaming provider raised its own action to reject the suit last November.

‘In memory of Audrey Mestre’

Netflix No Limit
Roxana Aubrey (played by Camille Rowe) and Pascal Gautier (Sofiane) in Netflix’s 2022 film No Limit (Netflix)

No Limit was for a time the most popular non-English movie on Netflix, where it can still be seen. When the character Aubrey goes for a 180m No Limit record, it is implied by the filming of Gautier’s last-minute checks that he knows her air-tank to be empty. 

While No Limit does not mention Pipin, the film does end with frames showing a photograph of Mestre accompanied by the words: “In memory of Audrey Mestre 1974-2002. Audrey tragically died on October 12, 2002 in the Dominican Republic while attempting to beat the world record at 174 metres. This film remains a work of fiction. Any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.”

Netflix argued that while the film was partially inspired by Mestre’s story, it was not intended as a literal account of her death, according to a report on the judge’s findings in Variety.

Rosenthal declared that after watching the Nine For IX: No Limits documentary about the fatality he had researched it further, but said he had also been inspired by Le Grand Bleu, Luc Besson’s 1988 classic film inspired by the rivalry between freedivers Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca, as well as other films and books outside the freediving sphere.

A scene from No Limit (Netflix)
A scene from No Limit (Netflix)

“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 freediving,” stated Rosenthal, who said he had no special insight into the truth of Mestre’s death.

Paying tribute to her memory at the end of the film did not indicate that it depicted her life story, he said.

Judge disagrees

Judge Iwasaki disagreed with Rosenthal’s contention that No Limit’s ending had been rendered more effective dramatically through being “intentionally vague”, and considered that in the context of the film Gautier was clearly responsible for Aubrey’s death. But he also felt that no reasonable viewer would find that the film portrayed Pipin.

The judge considered that many parallels between the movie and Pipin’s life story were likely to be common to any freediving film. The abusive and controlling relationship portrayed in No Limit he felt bore no relationship to Pipin’s own account of a harmonious marriage to Mestre.

Pipin’s US legal representative Alexander Rufus-Isaacs, who has also sued Netflix on behalf of other individuals claiming to have been unfavourably portrayed in Inventing Anna (ongoing) and The Queen’s Gambit (settled for an undisclosed amount), said that with “22 similarities” between the characters in No Limit and the true story, “this is one of the strongest libel-in-fiction cases I’ve come across”.

Also on Divernet: Freediver sues Netflix over No Limit movie, New on Netflix: The Deepest Breath, 20 titles for divers streaming on Netflix

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