SWIM LITTLE FISH SWIM B
USA France (95 mi) 2013 d: Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar Official site
An offbeat coming-of-age movie written, directed, and produced by a husband and wife team that is actually about the choices made by young child/adults as they navigate their way into adulthood, as if it is a foreign territory to be avoided at all costs, where the perilous consequences are likely to be unalterable once entered. This is a film where things happen not in any particular order, but in the randomness of the moment, where caught up in this idiosyncratic world are Leeward (Dustin Guy Defa), a perennially unemployed musician that appears to exist out of the 60’s or even an earlier era, as he routinely allows strange people to crash in their home, spends all day making music with friends and neighbors, and has little thought about personal responsibilities, though he seems to be a devoted father to his young 4-year old daughter that he insists upon calling Rainbow (Olivia Costello). Mary (Brooke Bloom) is a full-time nurse that has to work extended hours just to make ends meet, whose nerves are tested by the seemingly anything-goes philosophy of her husband, who she finds lazy and irresponsible, an overgrown adolescent who seems incapable of holding down a job, though she believes he’s certainly talented enough musically, as he writes songs all the time, but refuses to get paid for them, while insisting upon calling their daughter by her real name, Maggie. Into this blissful existence comes Lilas (Lola Bessis, co-writer and director), a perky young French artist struggling to find her way into the New York artworld and the daughter of a world famous painter (Anne Consigny) in Paris. What each of these characters has in common is their perception of feeling misunderstood, believing they are doing the right thing for the right reasons, but feeling lost and alone as no one else seems to care.
The film has an interesting New York City vibe to it, centered around the East Village filled with Bohemian artists, street musicians, rollerblade skaters and the everpresent bustle of street activities, much of it taking place in a cramped Chinatown apartment that seems to attract a myriad of people when Leeward is home during the daytime, most all of whom are ushered out when Mary arrives back home, completely flustered at having to deal with all these strange people. One of these is Lilas, a video artist that walks around the streets of the city with a portable projector in hand, who is promised a spot on the living room couch for a few days, much to the chagrin of Mary, who is rarely allowed to crack a smile, as she’s the only one working to pay for the supposed comforts of others. After a bit of browbeating, she gets Leeward to agree to check out a job writing music for a commercial, something that wouldn’t particularly be that hard for him, but Leeward has an anti-capitalist bent about him, a holdover from the more radical leanings of his grandmother we later learn, who encourages him every step of the way to walk to the beat of his own drum irregardless what others think. Mary, however, is led to believe he is performing the required work assignment and is in line to receive a hefty paycheck, so on her own she explores a cute little house in the suburbs of Jersey City, thinking this could finally become a reality. Instead, however, it’s Lilas that is having an effect on her husband’s choices, both struggling artists, where they mutually agree they should simply quit stalling and go for it, where Lilas intends to get an art exhibition at MoMA PS1, a move that could extend her expiring VISA, as it would make her a working artist, while Leeward makes arrangements to cut his first record in a studio. Simultaneously, each pursues their own dream while concealing it from a significant other.
While the film is about freedom and self-expression, often expressed in a joyous communal celebration, it’s also a film of emotional neglect, as Lilas’s overcontrolling mother is more used to telling her daughter what to do instead of listening to her, while Leeward is tone deaf to his wife’s increasing stress about their financial hardships, where she’s tired of living hand to mouth while supporting the entire neighborhood. When Mary gets serious about making a down payment on a house, it’s out of desperation for a better future, concerns that Leeward simply ignores, as he’s too caught up pursuing his own dreams. Their daughter, despite the mixed signals, seems to be happy and content, where Lilas takes to her like a long lost daughter she never had, while Maggie seems to be thrilled by all the activity taking place in her home very day. To that end, filmmaker Nathan Punwar contributes stunning Super 8 video footage that is tastefully interspersed throughout the interweaving narrative, that may as well be a world seen through a child’s eye, filled with bright colors and an unmistakable magic and charm. While each is trying to achieve something they want, including the build-up of their own heightened expectations, reality can be a sobering reminder of how difficult dreams are to achieve. As it happens, Lilas’s mother is planning an exhibit of her own at MOMA in New York, asking her daughter to come help out, but she’s disappointed to learn that her own project has been short circuited, denied a place in the exhibit, sending her back into the control of her mother. Undeterred, she does so on her own terms, using the moment to express herself anyway, even if no one’s listening, an affect that finally gets her mother’s attention. This is one of those quirky little films that is all about wacky artists, absurd personalities, and lofty ambitions that wind up with an altogether different expression than anything imagined, becoming, of all things, an intriguing family drama about the worth of each individual, with an appropriate musical soundtrack accredited to Toys and Tiny Instruments.