The sexual and emotional abuse of athletes is a difficult and painful topic that many would prefer to overlook or avoid. Argentinian screenwriter and director Lucía Puenzo’s latest sports drama Dive is a deep exploration of systemic abuse of power and authority in sports and the consequences of emotional and sexual abuse on the daily lives of the athletes. Dive deals with the grooming and sexual misconduct women encounter in sports and how they are silenced by isolation, shame, and guilt in their pursuit to achieve their ultimate dream of winning and fame.
Originally titled La Caida, it follows Mariel, a veteran elite diver training for the Olympic Games, whose life changes drastically when she realizes that her diving partner Nadia is being abused by their coach, Braulio. While confronting the sordid revelations, she reflects on her own past and finds terrible truths that might shatter her reality. Dive is an empowering film that attempts to break the silence surrounding the abuse of power in high-risk games and makes a plea to fight back to change the system.
Starring Karla Souza in her tour de force performance, the film throws light upon the complex conversations surrounding the topical tale of sexual abuse in the ultra-competitive sporting world of diving. It is an essential film that shows the inner conflict of the protagonist in realizing the abuse and her battle to persuade herself that she has been a victim of abuse in the first place. It forewarns the singular power structures that facilitate abuse that take advantage of victims’ lack of power, vulnerabilities, and inability to protest.
This article discusses the plot in detail and closely examines the major conflicts the film tries to address. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Refrain from reading the article and save it for later if you haven’t watched the movie.
Dive (La Caída) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
WHO IS MARIEL SAENZ?
The film commences with a young woman Mariel Saenz (Karla Souza) standing on a diving platform donning a tattoo of Olympic rings on her neck performing her routine before high diving. She dives into the water and emerges victorious as the judges announce excellent scores for her performance. She receives encouragement and an embrace from her coach Braulio Peralta (Hernán Mendoza) before she goes to ready herself for the next competition item. While resting, she notices Braulio whispering something into another much younger athlete’s ear before she takes her position on the springboard. Mariel and her diving partner Alejandro Moreno step into the platform for performing women’s 10m synchronized diving, but unexpectedly Alejandro is met with an injury and is taken in a wheeled stretcher to the emergency room.
At Mariel’s home, Braulio and his family join the birthday celebration of Mariel and they indulge in the yearly ritual of playing the video of 15-year-old Mariel winning a bronze medal in high diving for Mexico in the 1992 Summer Olympics. She was a child prodigy and a rising star of the country but she hasn’t been able to repeat her win in consecutive Olympic Games. She is hoping to win a medal this time in the upcoming 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, however, she is also struggling with a chronic urinary tract infection. Braulio lets Mariel know about Alejandro’s sprained neck and triceps muscle tear and her inability to train for a while. Muriel is worried about the upcoming FINA Cup which they must qualify to be eligible to participate in the Olympic Games.
WHO WILL PAIR WITH MARIEL IN THE OLYMPIC GAMES?
Braulio comforts her by saying that her place is guaranteed with her victory at Pan Am Games and Alejandro will be replaced by a 14-year-old girl Nadia Alfaro (Dèja Ebergenyi), who would be able to compete in the synchronized diving category. Mariel is hesitant and sceptical about trusting a young girl as Mariel won’t be able to compete in the next games as she will be 30 by then. Mariel is apprehensive about losing her one last chance to win at the Olympics with an amateur who will let her down. But, Braulio assures her that he has been coaching Nadia for one year and she is capable of competing against the world’s elite just like Mariel did in Barcelona ’92. Mariel finds the confidence he has in Nadia unsettling and believes that Braulio was pairing her with Nadia so that she could gain her first experience at a big tournament. When Mariel challenges his decision of pairing her with Nadia, Braulio tells her to put the Mexican team before her stupid ego. When she disagrees with his condition, he even threatens her that he will let her go. Mariel realizes that she was replaceable now as Braulio has shifted his trust and expectation onto Nadia. Exasperated, she leaves. She goes to the convenience store to get her antibiotics and hooks up with the middle-aged store owner.
The next day, on reaching the training session, Mariel finds Braulio introducing Nadia to a reporter as the talented diver pairing with Mariel, much to her dismay and irritation. She also consults a doctor about her third UTI in two months and she reprimands her for not finishing the course of her antibiotics. While at the medical facility, she overhears Braulio and Nadia in the next room. Braulio was imploring Nadia to spread and stretch to feel better and not to hurt anymore. Mariel feels alarmed and uneasy, but she stays silent. When Mariel was about to leave, Braulio finds her and gifts her a gold necklace which he intended to give her on her birthday. He reassures her that he never intended to hurt her and pushes her with the belief that she can perform to the best of her abilities. He also establishes that she could never doubt the man who helped her become who she was.
WHY WAS BRAULIO SUSPENDED?
The very next day, Muriel learns from another trainer Carlos (Christian Vazquez) that Braulio is suspended from his job at the Olympic Center since he has been accused of sexual abuse by Nadia’s mother Irene (Fernanda Borches). She leaves the training facility abruptly feeling distraught. When she reaches back home, she finds Braulio with her father and mother. They offer support and backing to Braulio unconditionally as they have been family friends ever since Braulio trained Mariel for the Games. Braulio pleads innocent to the crimes he is accused of and maintains that he has a close relationship with all the kids as most kids stay in the training facility since their parents live outside the city. He claims that he is responsible for their safety and nurses them when they get hurt or sick. Braulio denies all the allegations of Irene and he believes that she was seeking revenge for taking away from her. in tears, he professes that he has a daughter and such allegations could shatter his personal life. Confronted by the scandal, Braulio seeks the support of Mariel. She says that he was the best man she had known all her life and she could testify about her experience with him to the Federation.
WHY DID IRENE COMPLAIN ABOUT BRAULIO?
Mariel visits Nadia to persuade Nadia to deny any kind of sexual abuse. Muriel finds her mother Irene who reveals that Mariel was Nadia’s inspiration for becoming a diver and ever since she has never gotten off the springboard. Irene was aware that Nadia wanted to grow up desperately, to be an adult and independent, but there was always a moment when she was a child again. But one day, when Irene looked at her, she realized that Nadia had lost her innocence and could see that she carried a void within her. Mariel feels sympathy for Irene and Nadia but advocates on behalf of Braulio by saying that as a coach, he controls the minds and bodies of the athletes to get the best results. He is not capable of doing it to Nadia, as he has been training the country’s best divers for almost 20 years. She believes that Nadia must have misconstrued the trust and the proximity he has with students and assumed it to be more than a coach-pupil relationship. Mariel alleges that Irene is confusing her fears with the truth and that such a scandal could ruin Nadia’s career as well as that of Braulio’s.
Irene also mentions some other complaints that accused Braulio of the same crimes a few years ago. When Irene outrightly asks Mariel if Braulio has done anything ever to make her feel uncomfortable, Mariel instantly answered the question in the negative. She states that when no one else cared about her, Braulio saw her talent and her potential and without him, she would have been just a broken person. She coaxes Irene not to take away Nadia’s chances of being an Olympian by taking her away from the person who sees her potential and abilities. Mariel tries to convince her not to destroy their careers over a misunderstanding. Irene informs Mariel that the Olympic Committee has started an investigation and she won’t be an obstacle in her daughter’s dreams, once she is assured that it is safe. We realize that Mariel was also speaking for herself as she can only achieve her dream with the help and support of Braulio. And without Nadia, she will lose her last opportunity to compete at the Olympics. She realized that they need Braulio as much as he needed them and if they are without a coach, they will be clueless about how to proceed.
WHAT DID NADIA SAY AT BRAULIO’S TRIAL?
At the training facility, Nadia apologizes to Braulio for the events that unraveled in the past few days. She avows that she never wanted her mother to complain but Braulio refuses to listen to her. Braulio is escorted out of place by the Olympic Committee. Later, Nadia blames herself for his predicament and confesses to Mariel that she kept a personal diary and that he mother read it. She claims that she wrote some meaningless and trivial things that she imagined in her diary which were not meant to be read by anyone else, and it has now ruined her life. Mariel goes to the training facility at night to train more and meets Carlos there. At the pool, while they were about to have sex, the guard interrupts them and they leave the facility. We realize that Mariel hooks up with random people and prefers relationships that keep her emotions away.
At the trial, Braulio brings all the respectable athletes he trained as well as his supporters to testify about his character and conduct, but none of the victims turns up. Nadia openly confesses that the allegations are false and untrue. Her mother was making these allegations because she wanted them to move back with her grandparents. She also believes that her mother was envious of her life and wanted to take it all away from her. The judges of the Committee concludes that it was a family issue and it should be resolved at home. Since no one testified against Braulio, his suspension was lifted and he was welcomed back to the training facility. Mariel’s family celebrates Braulio’s victory at the trial in their home. Braulio expresses his gratitude to Mariel for choosing him to be part of her family and for not losing faith in him.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FINA CUP?
The athletes and the coaches travel on a bus to their stay at the FINA Cup. While traveling, Mariel notices Nadia sitting with Braulio and how they shared a closeness like never before. Braulio touches Nadia more often and Mariel wonders whether the allegations of Irene have been right all this time. Mariel decides to stay in her room and rest and focus on the tournament since she was struggling with the infection while Nadia spends more time with Braulio and parties with the other athletes. When Irene calls the hotel to enquire about Nadia, Mariel goes to take Nadia back to her room. However, Braulio asks Nadia not to be a prude goody two shoes and to let Nadia enjoy herself since it is her first time attending an event. At the washroom, Mariel suddenly remembers how her younger self threw up in the same washroom with an empty gaze on her face. When she steps out of the washroom, she finds Nadia sleeping in her bed.
Nadia is distant and stand-offish the next morning. Mariel suspects that something happened the previous night and confronts Nadia before the game. But Nadia refuses to talk and focuses on the game. Mariel was thrown off-track and loses synchronization while performing the diving act. They delivered an average performance at the FINA Cup and qualified for the Olympics but Braulio expresses his disappointment at Mariel’s performance. He slanders her for her poor performance and insults her messing up every Olympic game by making mistakes that disqualified her. He accuses Mariel of deliberately messing up the game as she was jealous of Nadia. He also comments on her sex life and makes fun of her weird infection. He also alleges that she screws up her own life and those lives around her. He also declares that the Federation wanted to get rid of her as she was too old and that he spoke to give her another chance as Nadia and Muriel would make a perfect pair who would win a medal for Mexico. Mariel begs for his forgiveness and asks for another chance to rectify her mistakes. When she starts crying, Braulio asks her to freshen up in his bathroom, and she finds Nadia’s crop top there. She realizes that her assumptions were true about Nadia and Braulio. She hides the top and goes back to her room. She keeps the top in Nadia’s bag and finds her diary. She steals Nadia’s diary and starts reading and gets reminded of her own past.
Dive (La Caída) Movie Ending, Explained:
WHAT DID MARIEL FIND IN NADIA’S DIARY?
Mariel reads Nadia’s diary and discovers how Braulio groomed her and made sexual advances toward her. Her diary mentions how Braulio asked her to touch him, how he kissed her harshly so that she couldn’t call out, touched her breasts, and how she often wanted to scream to escape from him. Mariel drops the diary into the pool feeling disgusted with Braulio’s predatory actions but goes to retrieve it back as she realizes that it was a piece of evidence. At home, she is feverish and continues to have visions of how Braulio took advantage of her too when she was young. She was too young to understand his sexual advances and had repressed those uncomfortable memories into her unconscious and was in denial the whole time. But when she read Nadia’s abuse in the diary, she collected all the traumatic memories of grooming, exploitation, and sexual harassment she endured at the hands of Braulio. She remembers how he made her believe that he was her future and only he could help her achieve what she wants. She also recalls the false promises he made to her about how he will leave everything for her, even his family.
On realizing that Braulio is a pedophile, she starts paying more attention to his behavior toward Nadia. She notices that Braulio was finding excuses to touch Nadia and no one dared to challenge him because of the power and stature he held within the community. The shame induced by Braulio on Nadia makes her reluctant to speak up. After recovering from her fever, Mariel tries to voice out her disagreements against him. While Braulio was touching her inappropriately, she questions him whether Mariel and Nadia shouldn’t work together for the synchronization. She fails to speak about the abuse inflicted on her and several other girls knowing how it will turn out. To save his face, he again insults her and threatens of expelling her from the Federation.
On reaching home, Mariel is distressed about what has transpired at the training facility. Her mother alleges that she is sabotaging herself and that she has become self-destructive with the Games so close to her reach. To show what is happening to her, she plays the video of the Olympic Games when she won the bronze medal. In the video, we see Braulio whispering something in Mariel’s ear and she says tells her mother exactly what he told her during the tournament, “If you make a good dive, I’ll make you feel real good. I’ll teach you how to be my woman. You’ll never find someone like me.” Mariel’s mother is shocked to hear about this and refuses to believe her. She blames her mother for not realizing what was going on and what she was enduring. She indicts her for failing to protect her from a pedophile who sexually abused and exploited her.
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN MARIEL CONFRONTED NADIA?
The next day, Mariel confronts Nadia about Braulio in the restroom. She confesses that she also experienced everything that she is undergoing now. She opens up about her own abuse, but Nadia refuses to listen to her. Mariel tries to say the things Braulio used on her to make Nadia understand how he was manipulating and grooming them. Mariel shares how he had asked her not to speak about their relationship because the world would never understand what they shared. Mariel doesn’t want Nadia to be alone when she is going through this and wants to offer the help that she was never offered by anyone. When Mariel tries to make her understand the power dynamics between Braulio and Nadia and how he takes advantage of her innocence, Nadia accuses her of being jealous of her. She also discloses that he had promised to marry Nadia after returning from Greece and he would leave his wife to be with her. Mariel realizes that Nadia was completely under the control of Braulio and she would not believe anything that she says to persuade her.
WHY DID MARIEL RUN AWAY FROM THE OLYMPIC FINALS?
Despite opening up about the abusive behavior of Braulio, Mariel is asked by her mother to apologize to him for the press conference. Braulio begs her forgiveness for being the monster that he has become. He tries to gain her sympathy by talking about their special relationship, how he always loved her, and how they need each other. She asks him not to touch her ever again and to stay away from her. She threatens to tell the truth if he dares to get close to Nadia. Before leaving for Greece, Mariel apologizes to Irene for misleading her. Mariel feels admiration towards her for fighting for the safety of her daughter tooth and nail, though she wasn’t successful in her attempt. To right the wrong she has done, she mails the diary of Nadia to Irene asking her to take legal action against Braulio.
Standing on the diving platform, the duo takes positions to dive in the Olympic tournament. But Mariel refrains from diving and Nadia dives into the water surprising and shocking everyone. She left the finals to make Nadia understand that she can run away from the abuse that she is suffering from. She wanted Nadia to realize that she can take an alternative path away from Braulio instead of being caught up in his web of lies and manipulation. Mariel reveals that she might never have woken up from this nightmare unless Nadia helped her to realize it. She hopes that Nadia can also run away from this before the hell consumes her alive. With the full realization that she doesn’t have another chance at Olympics, she chooses to run away and break free from the systemic abuse. She runs to the sea and smiles at the vast ocean indicating that she has gained freedom and liberation from all constraints and restrictions. Till now, she had dedicated her life to the sport, and winning the competition was her only goal. Even though she did not fulfill her dream of winning a medal, she is content and happy for helping a young girl conquer her fears and demons and for showing her a better path.