A musician conditioned by his anti-capitalistic beliefs, struggling to make a living for his wife and young daughter, finds hope from a runaway Parisian artist trying to escape the shadows of her famous painter mother. Shot like any other independent film expected from a beginning filmmaker, Lola Bessis’ dramatic comedy branches out and is smartly defined by layers of inner conflict. With New York City playing as the film’s backdrop of emotion, Swim Little Fish Swim can easily fall into today’s better city-based dramadies. It’s relatable in conflict, yet unique in effects. It’s loud in its choices of art and music, yet refreshing when establishing character relationships. There are elements in the film we have not seen on the big screen, and there are elements that feel all too familiar. It’s both large at heart, but small in scope. It’s everything chaotic and silent one would expect from life’s inner toil, making it a direct observation of life in the big city.
After premiering at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, Swim Little Fish Swim finally opens theatrically in New York City and on VOD September 19th and September 26th in Los Angeles. Set in New York, Swim Little Fish Swim focuses on the domestic life of Leeward (Dustin Guy Defa) and Mary (Brooke Bloom), a married couple at a standstill crossroads of their relationship. Mary is an overworked nurse trying to find greener pastures of the American dream, while Leeward is a struggling musician settled in his artistic empire state of mind. When Lilas (Bessis), a young French artist trying to make it in the New York scene on her own, moves into the couple’s cramped apartment, their already fragile balance is placed further toward the edge.
Swim Little Fish Swim brilliantly tackles many internal issues without ever feeling preachy neither biting more than it can chew. Bookending the film with Lilas, the film largely deals with her character’s influence on Leeward. Alone, both characters seem to be incompetent in finishing their work. Whether it’s Lilas’ mother trying to pull her back to Paris, or Leeward’s wife Mary trying to knock sense around his immature tendencies, both are better people when together. The caveat about their relationship, and quite refreshing for a film about marriage troubles, is that it stays strictly platonic. Besides casual glances at one another, the film never gives the impression that foul play is the cause of the couple’s rocky marriage. Brooke Bloom superbly grounds the film, forcing Dustin’s Leeward character to realize his childish ways. Subtle cues like nagging reminders for Leeward to callback a commercial gig, a starring glare as Leeward carelessly allows Lilas to stay another night, breath realistic nuisances that can be appreciated by anyone is a long term relationship. Although Bessis plays Lola a bit flat, her presence is a glaring reminder of the extent that she is a third wheel in the lives of Leeward and Mary. Defa plays the role of an egotistic New Yorker with ease and a stone cold look echoing his settled ways.
Art can be seen as a character, much like the city: eccentric and richly distinct. The presence of art is as non-contemporary as one can imagine. Art is captured through experimental video interviews, musicians making music from children’s toys and synthesized lights, to witnessing a colony of nude artists painting by hanging upside-down. Art is a symbol of individuality and separation from reality for our protagonists. It’s what isolates Lila from her mother and clings Leeward to his child-like behaviors. By amplifying the characters interest, it allows the audience to bare witness to a fruitful relationship. Everything good that comes forth by our main characters is mutually acknowledged, enriching the notion that strangers can impact our lives just as much as the people we share them with.