From the Cannes Film Festival: ‘Le Grand Bain (Sink or Swim)’

A group of middle aged men escape from their failures and insecurities by forming a male synchronised swimming team, much to the derision of their friends and families. They are taught by two very different women who are each escaping from their own fears.

The film opens with a stylistic monologue about the naturalness of circles and the rigidity of manmade squares. Modern life is described as full of these squares and therefore removed from nature. The purpose is to suggest that those too engrossed or enslaved within modern life will become incapable of natural beauty, a suggestion that the film then goes about disproving.

The film explores most of the men on the team and their backstories. Mathieu Amalric is Bertrand and is experiencing depression which affects his ability to work. Benoît Poelvoorde is Laurent, a sleazy pool salesmen who’s business is failing. Jean-Hugues Anglade is Simon, an ageing rocker who is losing the respect of his daughter. Performances are committed and capable across the board.

There are some characters who are not afforded the time to fully develop. Balasingham Tamilchelvan’s Avanish for example is essentially just a recurring joke. This is inevitable with such a large cast of characters, but some attempt could have been made to breathe more life into these tertiary characters.

Exploring so many subplots and following a traditional sports movie narrative means the movie does occasionally feel disjointed. Some plots are, by necessity, omitted from the film for long periods of time.

Director Gilles Lellouche bring bravura and energy to the film. It’s pacing is perfect and he makes excellent use of montage. The underwater photography and general lighting are very impressive.

Of course, this is a sports movie and most fulfil the requirements of a sports movie. The movie does well to build the stakes for these men. There is no doubt that this is important for each of them. The actual dancing both in and out of the pool is very impressive.

Le Grand Bain is a very affecting comedy. It has strong characters and some really funny situations. If it’s pieces don’t quite add up to the cohesive whole you would want from a traditional sports movie it is only due to the high ambitions of the films director.

3.5 / 5


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