Ein Becken voller Männer / Sink or swim

Missed this when it was on general release and when I tried to see the openair version, it got cancelled because of the weather. Seeing as it showed at Cannes and was nominated for 10 (TEN) Cesars. Surely it was worth a try,

Bertrand is clinically depressed and has been out of work for 2 years. His teenage son never asked to be born, and he hates his wife’s family. Visiting the swimming pool with this daughter, he chances upon a notice signing people up for a synchronized swimming group.

The group is full of similarly ageing and paunchy men, each of whom has his own problem with his family and job. Most of them are interchangeable, but there’s a good turn by him out of Betty Blue as an ageing rocker with a Frank Gallagher haircut, who can’t come to terms with the fact that if you bring out your own records, that doesn’t mean that anyone’s going to actually buy them.

Training sessions are led by Delphine, a chain smoking alcoholic, before Delphine has a deep personal crisis and Amanda, a wheelchair bound disciplinarian takes over. Then it turns out that, for whatever reason, Delphine’s personal crisis wasn’t all that and the two women take charge together.

Snippets of hapless training sessions are intercut with domestic and work scenes of the lives of some of the swimmers. But as few of them have anything approaching a noticeable personality, we don’t learn too much. Annoyingly, the one Person of Colour in the team is not afforded any back story at all.

They apply for a tournament, despite the objections of family and work colleagues that synchronized swimming is purely a women’s sport. Is this a French thing? I thought that there was similar participation from both sexes, but everyone here is adamant that no real man would indulge in anything so effeminate.

Anyway, so far, so Cool Runnings or Eddie the Eagle. We have a team of overweight men who are dealing with their various midlife crises by entering an international competition against swimmers who are obviously fitter, younger and better resourced than these blokes who train once a week as long as they’re not forced to work late. No matter, its not about the winning and at least through their attempt at glory they’ll have learned something about themselves. That’s how this sort of film is supposed to work, isn’t it?

Its difficult to talk about the resolution without plot spoilers, but it is so incredible, so whatthefuckish unbelievable, that your whole perception of the film is rocked. Suffice it to say that, having never shown any inclination towards competence, they somehow manage to produce a world class athletic performance.

Now this is not just a happy ending for a feelgood film (never my favourite type of film in the first place). It just defied credibility so much as to make you angry. Until then, the film had been amiable enough without showing any great spark. But there was absolutely no need to bolt on that ending which, of course, manages to solve all the personal crises that have bringing them down until now.

I’m sure it wasn’t helped by me seeing the German synchronized version, but for a comedy, there weren’t enough laughs, so it was never going to be more than a diverting way of spending a lazy Sunday afternoon. But it just all seemed so unnecessary. Ever have the feeling that you’ve been cheated?

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