Hailed as “the French Tiny Furniture”, Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar’s debut feature Swim Little Fish Swim is set to bring the curtain down on BEV 2014 with a sun-dappled dose of transatlantic charm.
This philosophical comedy-drama weaves around the faltering lives of three denizens of contemporary New York. The most obviously sympathetic is Mary (Brooke Bloom): a hard-working nurse struggling to make ends meet while yearning for a modest dream house in the suburbs, the better to bring up her adorable three-year-old Maggie (a delightfully unaffected turn by Olivia Durling Costello).
Mary’s stay-at-home husband Leeward (Dustin Guy Defa) is a modishly bearded man-child who prefers to call their kid Rainbow. His idea of responsible parenting makes room for anti-capitalist discourse with beer-swilling pals, not to mention singalong twee folk jams utilising toy instruments. A local hamburger restaurant has offered him a substantial fee to write a song advertising their wares. It’s money that the family desperately needs, but passive-aggressive Leeward doesn’t want to harm his integrity.
This tension between adult compromise and freeloading creativity is exacerbated by the arrival in the couple’s already cramped apartment of couch-surfing Parisian ingénue Lilas (played by co-director/writer Bessis), a friend of a friend who’s trying to assert her independence from a world-famous artist mother. The latter demands that Lilas – herself a budding video experimentalist – returns to France, but the lure of a potential first gallery show dictates she extend her US visa.
The infantile sons and solipsistic daughters of privilege can provide rich sources of amusement. However, rather than the savagely brilliant Brooklyn satire which Lena Dunham has perfected, Swim Little Fish Swim splits the difference between naturalism and the gently surreal. We’re offered a bittersweet bite of the Big Apple, ripe with golden hour photography and colourful supporting characters, yet also tinged with sadness. The movie’s languid narrative is further peppered by lyrical Super 8 interludes, in which the protagonists confide their hopes and fears directly to camera.
Foregrounding nicely understated performances from their whole cast, Bessis and Amar have crafted a distinctly European perspective on America’s first city. It’s one that deserves to be savoured via the big screen at BFI Southbank, where the filmmakers will joining Birds Eye View for a Q&A following our eagerly awaited UK premiere.