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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Swim Little Fish Swim review (Birds Eye View Film Festival)

Swim Little Fish Swim green light

It’s almost a little too precious to be taken as an honest exploration of the difficulties of living an artistically genuine life. Or else that’s where it finds a lost romance.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s almost a little too precious to be taken as, I think, it wants to be taken: as an honest exploration of how difficult it can be to live an artistically genuine life. Could an unemployed — apparently unemployable — musician like Leeward (Dustin Guy Defa: Computer Chess) afford to live in Manhattan’s Chinatown these days, even with a wife, Mary (Brooke Bloom: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), who works as a nurse, and even though they take in strays to sleep on their couches and (presumably) kick in with the rent? I mean, they have an actual separate bedroom! They have room for multiple couches! (One line of dialogue suggests that Mary takes home less than $2500 per month. Their rent alone would be way more than that.) Anyway, the charms of this little French film — from the writing-directing team of Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar, making their feature debut — make it easy to ignore its implausibilities. Leeward and Mary’s latest stray is Lilas (Bessis, who has a sort of Gallic Rose Byrne-ish quality about her), 19 years old and just about to run out her visa; she came to New York from Paris to try to be an artist out from under the shadow of her famous-artist mother (Anne Consigny: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), and it hasn’t been going so well. Lilas and Leeward are birds of a feather in a way that highlights the seeming disconnect between quixotic Leeward and his very practical wife, and while — thank goodness — this is not a story about Lilas coming romantically between the couple, it does look, around its dreamy edges, like it might be a portrait of a fading marriage. (Indeed, it could be only four-year-old Maggie [Olivia Durling Costello] keeping the couple together. Though they can’t even agree on the kid’s name! Leeward calls her Rainbow.) Those dreamy edges? They’re the ones where Leeward’s and Lilas’s hopes and ambitions for their creative lives get raised and crushed in endless cycles (even if sometimes it’s their own fault). They’re the ones where Bessis and Amar make it seem possible that a meatgrinder of a city like New York can still offer even a slender lifeline for starving artists. Perhaps it took outsiders to see that the romance was still there.

viewed during the 2014 Birds Eye View Film Festival, celebrating and supporting international women filmmakers


green light 3.5 stars

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  • RogerBW

    Yeah, in the generic male filmmaker version of this story, Leeward would dump Mary and the kid and find creative renewal (and sex) with Lilas. We’re not exactly short of that one. Glad to see someone’s trying to do something different.

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