French director Gilles Lellouche comes back with ‘Sink or Swim’, a movie about a bunch of middle-aged men struggling in their daily lives but finding salvation in masculine synchronised swimming. The movie stars Guillaume Canet, Mathieu Amalric, Benoît Poelvoorde, Jean-Hugues Anglade and Philippe Katerine as the main team, along with Virginie Efira and Leïla Bekhti as their coaches.
Over the last few years, French cinema seems to have some trouble renewing itself. Its most popular genre probably remains comedy, because it is quite simple to do, but here already it lacks ‘good’ comedy. Cheap laughs fit a public craving for cliches and begging for anything to distract their minds from whatever gloomy daily life they might consider experiencing, even if it means laughing at people with worse gloomy lives. Drama represents the other 50% of French cinema. ‘Sink or Swim‘ falls into that category.
If we solely take the plot into consideration, the movie looks interesting. It explores an obscure topic (masculine synchronized swimming) and uses it an escape route for protagonists having trouble coping with their everyday life. Bertrand (Mathieu Amalric) remains at home all day because of his unemployment and probably takes way too many pills to fight his ongoing depression. Laurent (Guillaume Canet) mainly fails to deal with his stuttering son. Marcus (Benoît Poelvoorde) earns his life (ironically) selling pools but hasn’t got any customers in months and harasses his only employee for being lazy. Simon (Jean-Hugues Anglade) dreamt of becoming a rock star but his career never really started. Finally, Thierry (Philippe Katerine) works at the pool where the team is training.
The coaches also share their part of problems: Delphine (Virginie Efira) and Amanda (Leïla Bekhti) used to be best friends and to compete in feminine synchronized swimming, but an accident left Amanda in a wheelchair and broke their friendship to the point where they are not even talking to each other anymore. Delphine also obsesses over her ex even though he told her that it was over between them.
Sadly, the execution does not live up to what could be expected. The first noticeable flaw is the way the scenario unfolds. The movie does not provide one surprising element. It follows the most basic story line possible, and the main goal of the team (which is to make it to the world championship) appears a bit randomly but also really late. And in the end, they win, which looks highly unlikely considering the level they showed earlier in the movie.
Even when twists do happen, the protagonists immediately find a solution. They need someone who can hold his breath for an extended period of time because they aren’t good enough? What a surprise! Laurent, which must deal with his bipolar mother, alongside his stuttering son, discovers that one of the workers at the place where his mother lives is training daily to hold his breath because of how bad old people’s rooms smell. Their main coach refuses to come to training because she can’t get over her ex-boyfriend? Delphine’s ex-best friend Amanda decides to suddenly forgive her and to train the team.
Finally, and quite unfortunately, it seems that French drama protagonists need to be losers in some way. This might be how French directors consider a ‘feel-good’ movie: unrelated characters with an unhappy routine get together to create a team, bond together and ultimately achieve a common goal.
Overall, Sink or Swim is a skippable movie, and it lets us pray for a renewed vision on French drama in the future.