Review: The Swimmer

Written and directed by Adam Kalderon, having earned himself a coveted spot at an elite training camp, swimmer Erez finds himself thrust into an unforgiving world of sporting rivalry, battling against his peers for a place on the Olympic team. With his goal in sight, Erez is single-minded in his athletic ambition, that is until he meets handsome fellow swimmer Nevo. Starring: Omer Perelman Striks, Asaf Jonas, Nadia Kucher and Igal Reznik.

It’s not hard to piece together how perfectly matched a story of gay desire is with an elite group of swimmers, lean muscled men spending hours of each day in nothing but a speedo. It’s a match made in heaven, and is therefore no surprise when it sparks the unexpected desires of Erez (Striks). Unfortunately, storytelling and romance are not particularly this film’s strengths. Granted, it cultivates an extremely thirsty, sexually driven atmosphere, turning the male gaze on its fellow man but it feels as though it forgets to also build a compelling, emotional or sympathetic story.

It doesn’t frame Erez in a flattering manner for the most part, outside of its exploration of how LGBTQ people are discriminated against in the world of athletics. Although it doesn’t spend a great deal of time or energy on that topic, it’s forever lingering in the background and then when it does come to the forefront it feels fairly shallow. There was plenty of room to further develop the struggle for queer athletes, outside of aspects like an outlandish haircut denoting sexuality. Instead, it spends most of its focus on the classic aspects of competitive athletes, which in itself had the potential also for a larger exploration on mental health, but it chooses to remain on the surface.

Therein lies the biggest issue that this film has, it falls so far into this environment of striving for physical perfection, that it becomes extremely vapid. It’s missing out on further layers to its story or its characters, and the personas it creates for them can at times feel inconsistent. It’s a shame, as the visual style fits the atmosphere perfectly, it grabs onto the blue palette with both hands and makes its entire aesthetic on theme. It feeds into the highly tense air of competitiveness, and undoubtedly creates the space for the story to expand but it sadly never does.

Part of that issue is the performances similarly can’t get past shallow layers of emotion, especially with so much pressure put upon Omer Perelman Striks to lead the charge. His portrayal come across very physical, occasionally awkward, and doesn’t bring a captivating charm or relatable quality to keep your attention. Asaf Jonas’s Nevo has a charismatic presence but exists in a restricted capacity, his character can’t be fully fleshed out when being used primarily as a figure of desire and internal conflict for Erez, rather than trying to create a true relationship or friendship. In the brief moments where these two share a genuine connection, you can see the bigger potential of The Swimmer, had those then blossomed into something more tangible, it could have pushed the film where it needed to go.

The Swimmer had the potential to be a powerful vehicle to portray the discrimination faced by queer athletes, as well as the damage that can do to their mental health but unfortunately falls short. It focuses too much on competitiveness and simple desire, it’s visually strong and provides the space for the story to gather more depth but it simply can’t get there. It has sporadic moments of gathering a bigger emotion but then backtracks into something more basic, and a last minute choice of added flare may prove divisive and unsatisfying for some viewers.

Verdict: ✯✯ | 4/10

In Selected Cinemas 6th May – On DVD & On Demand 16th May

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare 2022

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