Best French Films - Cinéma Saturday - it's Sink Or Swim!
Following the intermission and last week's VE Day post, which you can find here, I was going to recommend some WWII films, but you'll find plenty of suggestions within the Reading Room of resources in that post (after the epic visual bibliography of books!)
This week, it's back to normal. Last time, Cinéma Saturday explored the thoughtful film 'The Truth' starring Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve.
Today we're in France, exploring depression, self-worth, masculinity and having a really good laugh! Yes, Gilles Lellouche's directorial solo debut is Le Grand Bain, a comedy starring many faces you'll know and perhaps some you don't. Read on to find out more...
This week's film is Sink or Swim / Le Grand Bain.
Cast & Crew
Director: Gilles Lellouche
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Benoît Poelvoorde, Virginie Efira, Guillaume Canet, Marina Foïs, Félix Moati, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Leïla Bekhti, Philippe Katerine, Alban Ivanov and Balasingham Thamilchelvan
Screenplay: Gilles Lellouche, Ahmed Hamidi and Julien Lambroschini
Cinematographer: Laurent Tangy
Producer: Alain Attal, Hugo Sélignac
Awards & Accolades: Multiple awards nominations worldwide and several wins. César win for Philippe Katerine, Best Actor in a Supporting Role and 9 other nominations. In the Globes de Cristal Awards, the film won Best Director - Comedy and Best Actor for Philippe Katerine.
Nominated in various categories at London Film Week, Magritte Awards (Belgium), Prix Louis Delluc and the Seattle International Film Festival. Winner of the Best Feature Festival Prize at the Victoria Film Festival, Canada.
A group of 40-something guys, all on the verge of a mid-life crisis, decide to form their local pool’s first ever synchronized swimming team – for men. Braving the skepticism and ridicule of those around them and trained by a fallen champion trying to pull herself together, the group set out on an unlikely adventure, and on the way will rediscover a little self-esteem and a lot about themselves and each other.
What I liked about this film
Men in swimming trunks and trying to learn synchronised swimming might not be your first choice of comedy subject, but Lellouche considered this idea for many years and it shows in this enjoyable film. Full of 1980s pop classics, when most of the characters were "young", this film may not have many surprises, but is certainly makes up for any shortcomings in its toe-tapping, root-for-the-team perfection.
Amalric is the depressed father and husband, unable to work and spending his days on the sofa playing games on his phone who comes across an advert for joining a men's synchronised swimming team. This interesting catalyst changes his perspective and connection with others and his character anchors the film. Essentially all the main characters get rounded out with their stories without the film feeling disjointed. Deflty done, the immense team feeling that all these very different people have is what makes this film shine. Realising that a lot of people get together to play a sport, perhaps with absolutely nothing else in common at all, and yet they keep coming back, Lellouche takes this idea and runs with it. As Lellouche explains, 'They aren’t friends, but they share this very specific time in their lives when something is happening that’s bigger than the idea of sports, something like a team spirit and the absence of cynicism.'
From the graceful, slightly surreal man-child character played so brilliantly by Philippe Katerine to the comic nuances of Poelvoorde's doomed pool businessman, there is a rich tapestry of stories, characters and funny, touching or dramatic moments. This exploration behind the swimmers' team facades is that makes the film so engaging - we want to know what happens to the team, but we also care what happens in the lives of the characters too. There is a completely uncynical, almost tender viewpoint and so we look at these moments of ordinary people trying to do something extraordinary with interest. From faded rockstars working in cafeterias to alcoholic relationship problems and everything in-between, the film has some comedy mixed with the moments of the issues the characters face.
The women in this film are really crucial as their actions change the lives of all of the men, so it's excellent that Lellouche chose so well in his casting. Marina Foïs is faultless as the supportive wife wavering in her capacity to put up with the apparently well-meaning comments of her family and who doesn't judge her husband's decision to try synchronised swimming. Her supermarket speech is memorable and perfectly judged. Efira and Bekhti provide an interesting double-arc together. Canet's angry rule-needy character is a change of key amongst the group and ensures we don't feel that everyone gets along easily. Everyone plays it very well and the film takes some very funny storytelling turns for the team and the lives of the coaches and swimmers.
Through it all, we have high hopes for the team..or perhaps no hope whatsoever as we see them train! Nevertheless, the film has some hilarious moments and especially towards the end in the synchronised swimming competition. That alone is worth your time for this film - it's just the sort of feel good, have a laugh and maybe a dance kind of denouement... it might be just the tonic for today's times!
Where to Find It
Available on iTunes/Apple TV in a number of regions.
If you prefer to buy the disc, handy links are provided here - just click on the images. (I'd be so delighted if you could support the blog and podcast by using the links below, at no cost to you.)
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A beautifully composed soundtrack which adds to the film great deal. There are more songs of the 80s featured in the film...many of which you'll find on the unofficial playlist here on Spotify.
Also available on Spotify:
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Have you seen this film? Did you like it? Let me know what you thought by email: hello at francewhereyouare dot com or over on social media.
I love to talk cinema!
And when they're closed, I love to talk home cinema. 😉