My final event at 38th Annual Hawaii International Film Festival Presented by Halekulani was my favorite by far. Sink or Swim directed by Gilles Lellouche was a raw and encouraging tale about the realities of depression and misfortune in adulthood, and challenges masculinity’s barriers towards approaching these issues in emotionally healthy ways.
The film takes place in France where a group of men entering their mid-life crisises turn to the same place for some relief: their local pool’s first men’s synchronized swim team. The team provides a healthy outlet for socialization and physical activity while striving for the goal of winning an international men’s synchronized swimming competition. Each of the men go through the trials and tribulations of their lives throughout the week, before working hard at practice and subsequently relaxing in the locker room where the men have created a theraputic and supportive environment to talk about their issues. This routine cycled a few times throughout the film, establishing a steady pace for later development of the team.
The story gives lots of attention to several members of the team, but mainly focuses on a man names Bertram who suffers depression, has a rocky relationship with his son, and has been unemployed for years. He and his wife, Claire, experience a lot of tribulations which question his masculinity. Claire’s sister and brother-in-law comment negatively on Bertram’s unemployment and swim team in order to demean his masculinity, but Claire eventually stands up to her sister saying how she loves her husband and feels that his interests no matter what they are make him more attractive.
functioning alcoholic succeeding with her sobriety, but it’s later revealed that her boyfriend getting her through her addiction was just a delusion. Ashamed, she relapses into consuming alcohol, and her ex-swim partner, Amanda, takes over. Amanda is extremely hard on both Delphine and the team, shouts constantly, and pushes all of the men to their limits. Eventually, Delphine returns to co-coach the team with Amanda, and the two find a healthy balance that brings out the best in each other.
A core strength of the movie is its entirely unfiltered dialogue between characters. There is so much humor and empathy to be found in raw exchanges of judgement and emotion. Between Bertram’s harsh family dynamic and the ways the men interact in locker room scenes, the dialogue allows the audience to feel extremely intimate with the characters.
The film opens up in harshly desaturated colors and remains that way for much of the movie except for rare, key events. This mundane color scheme is most importantly broken up in the climax of the movie, when the men’s performance at the synchronized swimming tournament explodes onto deep reds, purples and greens which contrast beautifully with the dark lighting of the pool.
I also really enjoyed the special attention put into audio in this film, especially considering the emphasis on the pool. The choice of musical scores in this movie ranged through many American power anthems which were pleasingly muffled when each focused character dove into the pool.
Overall, the rawness and realness of the film, unfiltered, humorous dialogue, and expression of healthy emotional support in men made this movie my favorite of HIFF hands down. I was looking all festival for a film that would leave me with more than I came with, and Sink or Swim was all I wanted and more.