Joshua Reviews Ruben Amar And Lola Bessis’ Swim Little Fish Swim [SXSW 2013 Review]


As cliched as modern cinema may in fact truly be, very few genres are as trope-focused as that of the romantic drama/comedy. With its narrative flow almost telegraphed from the first awkward moment, the genre has become fodder for some touching and sweet motion pictures, but also some of the least interesting and least inspired bits of cinema around.

However, when a film does those tropes well, it’s tough to argue with a solid picture, even if it is as troublesome and thought provoking as a connect the dots activity. And that’s exactly what Swim Little Fish Swim is.

Making its world premiere at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, the film comes to us from the writing/directing team of Ruben Amar and Lola Bessis, and follows the story of a husband and wife team who, after a young French artist arrives at their house, their lives are changed entirely. With one party, Mary, being a hard working member of society and the other, Leeward, a struggling artist not willing to give up his “artistic credibility,” their issues come to a head when Lilas arrives, and changes the dynamic. Well shot and featuring a vibrant soundtrack, Swim Little Fish Swim doesn’t attempt to change a single thing about the genre it’s playing in, but then again, if it isn’t broke, why try and fix it?

The star here is the team behind the camera, the screenplay, and the soundtrack. The craft of this film is impeccable. Amar and Bessis (the latter of whom also stars in the film) prove to be talented film directors, and while their screenplay is a tad on the nose, it hits every single note right out of the park. Particularly in the solid final act, the film really comes to a head building with great emotion to a final sequence that is truly touching. Brett Jutkiewicz shot the film, and his photography is natural but crisp and clean, and the art direction/production design from Jared Martin and Yvette Granata is top notch.

However, the performances don’t offer up much new within the romantic drama genre. Bessis is the film’s biggest star as Lilas, and artist simply looking to make it on her own, without the assistance of her famous mother. It’s a solid and interesting subplot of trying to break free of the constraints of the past and your family, but it doesn’t get  the time it rightly deserves. Brooke Bloom and Dustin Guy Defa are the film’s leads and while their chemistry feels real (especially for those with experience in long term relationships), but again, their entire relationship feels a tad flat. Youngster Olivia Costello rounds out a solid cast, giving a really good performance as the family’s youngest member, Rainbow (Maggie is her “real” name, just one of the many things the family can’t agree on).

While the story may not be transcendent or groundbreaking inside or outside of its genre trappings, when it hits its beats, Swim Little Fish Swim is a touching and deeply affecting look at two people who love one another immensely, but have a barrier between them, impossible to break. Featuring gorgeous photography, solid performances and an absolutely killer soundtrack that will leave viewers sprinting to iTunes following viewing the film, this is a film that may be overlooked, but for fans of sweet independent romances, this is right up your alley.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.