“You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole, and you can’t fit a round peg in a square hole”.
Directed by Gilles Lellouche, the premise of Sink or Swim (French title: Le Grand Bain) attempts to falsify the above-mentioned statement. Sink or Swim is a comedy film about a ragtag bunch of “losers” who form an unlikely team of male synchronized swimmers. Viewers who are well-versed with French cinema will notice that the majority of the main cast are prominent actors in French cinema, some of whom even have directorial and filmmaking experience.
The plot starts with Bertrand (Mathieu Amalric), an unemployed father of two who has been battling depression for two years amid the growing disapproval of his kids. Despite the support of his wife (Marina Foïs), Bertrand continues to remain unemployed: he bums around the
The movie progresses when Bertrand learns of the existence of a male synchronised swimming team during his visit to the local pool. He is accepted on the team and soon discovers the unlikeliest of friends who each share their own burden.
The team is coached by Delphine (Virginie Efira), a former water-ballet champion who suffered an alcohol addiction following the departure of her then partner, which marked the end of her professional career.
Joining Bertrand in the water are Marcus (Benoît Poelvoorde), a small business boss on the brink of bankruptcy, Laurent (Guillaume Canet), a hot-headed divorcé who struggles to cope with his stammer-afflicted young son and mentally-ill mother, Simon (Jean-Hugues Anglade), a rocker wannabe who faces difficulties connecting with his teenage daughter, and the kind-hearted pool caretaker Thierry (Philippe Katerine).
The team also consists of Avanish (Balasingham Tamilchelva), who doesn’t speak a word of French, Basile (Alban Ivanov), who somehow understands Avanish despite the language barrier, and joining them later in the movie is John (Félix Moati), an auxiliary nurse at an elderly care facility who is addicted to tranquillisers and has an ability to hold his breath for abnormal lengths of time.
The team decides to sign themselves up for the world championships in Norway, but Delphine falls into relapse and Delphine’s former partner Amanda (Leïla Bekhti) fills in as coach. Despite being wheelchair-bound due to her injury, the team fears her and her disciplinarian-like method of coaching. Delphine finally come to terms with her reality and returns to coach alongside Amanda – a
Withstanding the scepticism and ridicule from their friends and family, the group set out on a path less travelled while rediscovering themselves and their self-esteem – with the championships in sight.
The film was well-paced with plenty of relevant comical scenes, all while subtly touching on emotional and personal developments like recovering from failure. Sink or Swim was also able to portray what lies at stake for each of the team members and also showed how their amateur skills have improved over time to be able to perform a full, coordinated routine. The film was also set in a realistic tone as the cast had the imperfect body shapes of average middle-aged guys which reflect their characters, as opposed to well-built bods.
However, for a two-hour movie, it could have developed more on the team members’ sub-plots. For instance, Avanish had no impact whatsoever throughout the film, apart from the recurring gag of his inability to speak French. Furthermore, Delphine’s alcohol addiction and fall into relapse was acknowledged in the film but fizzled out without any clear conclusion. They could have elaborated on this development or not include it at all – it felt like Lellouche was simply trying to create a cause of redemption for Delphine as well, which seems forced. The lack of character developments limits the viewers’ anticipation for the team’s collective redemption.
While a realistic tone was set for the characters, there were a few moments when the film lost its essence of realism – all of which revolve around the championships. For starters, when Thierry finds information online about a world men’s synchronized swimming championship, the group immediately appointed themselves as the French national team.
I found it predictable and slightly exaggerated when it was revealed that the group had won the championships. However, it was compensated for as the film then shows that there wasn’t any public coverage of their victory, which changes the focus to that of attaining personal success – thereby proving that “a square peg can fit in a round hole, and a round peg can fit in a square hole”.
Sink or Swim is one of the 30 French films showcased as part of the French Film Festival. In addition to the usual genres such as comedies, dramas, and animation features for children, this year’s French Film Festival includes an all-new segment for horror and thriller films. For more information, visit the official website at www.frenchfilmfestival.sg.
Visuals courtesy of French Film Festival