CUFF 2014 REVIEW: SWIM LITTLE FISH SWIM

Swim Little Fish Swim is the heartfelt creation of writing-directing duo Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar. It is a film that reinforces a life of artistic sensibility, wonder and beauty.

Swim Little Fish Swim was shot by Brett Jutkiewicz, who gives the dream-like story a naturalistic and observational cinematographic style, which, in turn, brings the audience closer to the relatable characters and their respective lifestyles.

Bessis acts as one of the main characters in the film. She embodies Lilas, a 19-year-old French runaway artist who’d rather pursue her art in New York City rather than being put into the posh Parisian art academic mold her mother, an academic artist herself, wants for her.

Lilas captures life around her through the lens of her 8mm camera she takes everywhere. Anything and anyone is a source of inspiration: the bartender, the musician in the street, the little girl talking to herself in the mirror. The fascination with the mundane, the everyday, is what makes Lilas a captivating character.

SwimLittleFishSwimThe story shapes up when Lilas is brought to Leeward’s (Dustin Guy Defa) humble, Lower East Side apartment one late night by a mutual friend. Leeward is a musician, husband and a father of a three-year-old daughter he names Rainbow. He lives in a fantasy world in which he revamps his daughter’s toys into musical gadgets for his own projects.

That night, Leeward is surrounded by friends and fellow musicians who accompany him into his musical wonderland. Spirits are high, the atmosphere is relaxed. It must be past bedtime for little Rainbow, yet she is still up, immersing herself into her father’s wondrous world.

Leeward agrees to have Lilas crash on the couch while she figures out her next steps, attempting to confirm her visa to stay in NYC and get her art curated in an exhibit.

It is Leeward’s meeting with Lilas that encourages him to pursue his musical desires. She, young and free-spirited, believes in Leeward’s talent. They share this bond for the same lifestyle, one of uncompromising artistic expression. She pushes him to record his songs.

In the meantime, we get a glimpse into Mary’s lifestyle. Mary is Leeward’s other half, who has her feet much more grounded in reality. She’s the money-maker who works late nights at the hospital. The camera zooms on her cigarette, on the bed sheets she is removing from an empty hospital bed and on the paper work she is working on. Her world is not as colourful as Leeward’s. It is rather lonely and dark and we feel the struggles Mary faces through Jutkiewicz’s ubiquitous camera.

Swim Little Fish Swim is an incredible story of being able to achieve personal fulfillment as an artist and still be understood, desired and accepted by our loved ones which is clearly juxtaposed by Leeward’s story and Lilas’ story, two stories that meet halfway.

The film is an honest and heartfelt portrayal of the struggling artist. The struggles are there but they do not poison the film with negativity. Instead, they are lifted by the beauty, the innocence and the generosity of the artist, one who shares his takeout meal with the delivery guy and random people and be totally okay with it.

By Claire Miglionico

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