SXSW Review: Swim Little Fish Swim


[From March 9th – 17th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2013 in Austin, TX.  Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!]

A lot of indie films like to look at the relationship between artistic creativity and how that affects/is affected by love and family. A lot of indie films also like to throw in young, inexperienced girls into these situations to serve as a driving impetus to help drive the protagonist towards some kind of epiphany. Swim Little Fish Swim fits these two general summaries well, but is so much more than what you’d expect.

Swim Little Fish Swim
Directors:  Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar
Rating: N/A
Release Date: March 11, 2013 (SXSW)

Leeward (Dustin Guy Defa) is burdened with a creative mind who would much rather jam with a dozen of friends with DIY/hand-made instruments in his cramped Brooklyn studio apartment rather than record a jingle for a burger place… much to the chagrin of his his wife, Mary (Brooke Bloom). Whereas Leeward would rather explore his art, (Olivia Durling Costello), Mary spends her days working as a nurse. However, when Lilas (Lola Bessis), a young French artist attempting to make it in the New York art scene, crashes on their couch, her presence increases the tension between Leeward and Mary.

Again, the synopsis seems pretty generic: a man-child unwilling to grow up meets a younger figure who helps him find the strength to progress in his life. However, it’s the path and resolution that help keep the film original. Or maybe it’s the French way of shooting films that writers/directors Bessis and Ruben Amar incorporate? Whatever it is, Swim Little Fish Swim resonated with me for awhile.

In fact, it is the French vision of the Brooklyn art scene that helped give Swim Little Fish Swim its originality. The relationship between Lilas and Leeward is (almost) always platonic and one of respect and admiration and not a series of sexually-tense interactions between the two. Another difference is how moderate Leeward can be. At times, he’s extremely narcissistic, aggravatingly forgetful, and seemingly uncaring of anything but his art and daughter; at other times, he can be very mindful and warm. He’s never really made to be a likable character, per se, but you empathize with him and his strong stance to defend his beliefs.

And really, isn’t that what growing up is about: being able to understand and acknowledge what it is you love, then doing what you can to defend that? Of course, sacrifices are necessary to actually live, but there’s always a balance that we all face, artists or not. It’s this theme that runs throughout the film and entangles each character, not just Leeward. Well… Mary’s arc could have been fleshed out a bit more, but she still receives more development than most supporting characters would in like-minded films.

Swim Little Fish Swim was one of my most anticipated films of SXSW, and I’m happy to say that I came out from the screening feeling justified in my early beliefs. It’s like a French film that isn’t really a French film, and I mean that in the most positive way possible.