SINK OR SWIM/ LE GRAND BAIN, France, 2018. Starring Mathieu Amalric, Guillaume Canet, Benoit Poelvoorde, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Philippe Ketterer, Virginie Efira, Marina Fois, Leila Bekhti. Directed by Gilles Lellouche. 122 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language and sexual references).
Two films about middle-aged men in synchronised swimming competitions from 2018-2019. Coincidence? There was the British Swimming with Men and this French comedy drama with its original French title, The Big Bath (or translation variations on the original).
In recent decades there have been some Men’s Movements, but synchronised swimming for older men seem something of a stretch.
In fact, it is not quite the stretch we might have anticipated.
Welshman Dylan Williams moved to Sweden in 2009 and became involved in this type of swimming. He made a documentary about it, Men Who Swim (2010). This led to the British film, Swimming with Men, with Williams himself serving as a producer. The French film derives from Williams’ documentary.
The film opens with Bertrand, Mathieu Amalric, depressed, idle at home, but, strangely, responding to an ad which invites men to join the swimming group. Talk about an unlikely collection! We learn some of their stories. Laurent, Guillaume Canet, is also depressed, separated from his wife, concerned about his son who stammers. Marcus (Benoit Poelvoorde, is something of a con man who has been bankrupt four times. Simon (Jean-Hugues Anglade) has 17 unreleased CDs, lives in a trailer and works in a school cafeteria. Thierry, Philippe Katterer, large, long hair compensating for his bald top, is a supervisor. There are a couple of other members of the team including a migrant who does not speak French. They are coached by a former synchronised swimmer, Delphine (Virginie Efira).
As we learn their stories, some of the men come across sympathetically, others a bit irritating and annoying. They do get a possibility for performing to mild applause. But, as with all these films, they discover a competition, acquire a wheelchair bound martinet coach, Amanda (Leila Bekhti), who makes them exercise, long runs, creating a water choreography (and there is an image of Esther Williams!) as well as making them really exasperated with her.
We don’t have to be major film critics to anticipate what is going to happen – and it does.
In fact, their final performance at the competition in Norway is quite spectacular in itself. There are also some sequences with swimmers from other countries.
While this story is French, British audiences seem to love this kind of film – and this takes us back 20 years to Brassed Off and its band, and, of course, The Full Monty!
Although it is based on reality, the story has more than a touch of fantasy – but offering some hope and some inspiration for men who are not as young as they used to be let alone as agile as they used to be.
Madman films Released August 1st
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.