Sunday, July 14, 2024

“SWIMMING HOME”

THE STORY – When Isabel and Joe arrive at the villa where they’re set to spend their holiday, they find a naked stranger swimming in their pool. She says she knows the pool boy; impulsively, Isabel asks her to stay. It’s an unusual move, but Isabel and Joe are unconventional people — she’s a war correspondent and he’s a poet, and both are committed to living lives of artistic integrity and freedom. Their unstable peace is shattered by the arrival of Kitti, the naked stranger in question, whose earthy manners and unaffected honesty expose subtle fissures in Isabel and Joe’s marriage.

THE CAST – Christopher Abbott, Mackenzie Davis, Ariane Labed, Nadine Labaki & Freya Hannan-Mills

THE TEAM – Justin Anderson (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes


Something about the allure associated with the idea of a vacation in a tropical location remains unmatched. The tepid weather and the beautiful beaches are just a couple of the reasons why plenty of couples often run away with each other to a far away locale. For a place where plenty of magic occurs, a lot can go wrong. Cue Justin Anderson’s latest feature, “Swimming Home.” On paper, Anderson’s “Swimming Home” sounds like a captivating project. The ability to explore the sensuous and acclaimed work of novelist Deborah Levy starring two powerhouse talents like Christopher Abbott and Mackenzie Davis – what’s not to like? Instead, Anderson creates a gorgeously painted yet dull exploration of desire and frustration in this failed adaptation. 

“Swimming Home” follows Isabel and Joe (Davis and Abbott), a married couple on the verge of collapse who are en route to their holiday villa in the Mediterranean. Once they arrive, the couple, their 15-year-old daughter Nina (Freya Hannan-Mills), and others find a mysterious woman named Kitti (Ariane Labed) floating nude in the villa’s pool. Unbeknownst to the guests, she is revealed to have been invited over and is further kept there by Isabel’s wishes. The longer Kitti stays at the villa, the more her presence becomes the source of rising tensions among everyone, planting the seeds of distrust, disillusion, and an ever-growing despondency. 

“Swimming Home” is a complete misfire for almost everyone involved. From a performance standpoint, no one in this ensemble comes out on top. All of the performances range from being woefully one-note to just not good. At times, it feels like both Davis and Abbott are in completely separate films. Davis leans far heavier towards the psycho-sexual intrigue of the material, while Abbott comes off as stale due to his attempt to ride the wavelength of the more literary nature of the source material the screenplay wishes to emulate. Labed is the one person in the cast who has the most competently constructed characterization, which is most likely why she somewhat gets by with her work. However, it doesn’t help that the screenplay offers nothing to any of the actors, as they’re constantly stumbling around, as confused as the film itself. 

You can see which aspects of Levy’s novel intrigued writer-director Anderson the most. His direction often dabbles in trying to build a simmering surrealistic aura to induce a bewildered state in viewers. This is mainly attempted with the use of Simos Sarketzis’s cinematography, and Sarketzis gorgeously captures the warm and Dionysian nature of the Mediterranean locale and the villa itself, but everything that inhibits it is nowhere near as pleasurable. Coti K’s score is interesting, to say the least, creating a juxtaposition of various sounds running from loudly synthesized to wind-based instruments. Cori K’s work rings similar to the type of experimentation that Jerskin Fendrix implements in Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things.” Needless to say, Coti K’s work doesn’t come close to the same result, neither being as sonically interesting nor helping to establish the mood the film desperately wishes to achieve. Anderson’s direction feels aimless, as the characters are constructed in an invariant manner. While the motivations for each character appear obvious to viewers, they are inherently kept in the dark for no reason other than to cast a sense of mystification. 

There’s a degree of self-indulgence associated with Anderson’s direction in “Swimming Home” that leaves audiences with a bad taste in their mouths. Multiple sequences of the film involve interpretive dance that aren’t just frivolous but also miss the mark in trying to instill a seductiveness the film is starving for, despite the erotic choreography. The dynamics depicted – whether platonic or brooding with sexual tension – never come across as fully developed. Abbott and Davis, who are both talented performers, have little chemistry with one another, making audiences question why their characters even bother to stay in each other’s lives. Anderson wants a carnal and threatening energy floating around the air with these characters, especially with Kitti and Joe. Sooner or later, we see where these relationships end up going, only for half-hearted plot reveals to pile on each other within the final minutes, building to an incredibly unsatisfying conclusion. “Swimming Home’s” ostentatious nature is beyond obnoxious. Anderson desperately wants to exude a haunting allure that ends up being neither as intriguing nor as sensually captivating as it thinks it is. The failure to stimulate the sensation of enticement to audiences in a film where that seems to be a major focal point is troubling. Sexual desire becomes watered down and purely used only in an aesthetic manner, not in any way that enhances the storytelling. It’s a shame, because Davis and Abbott are two actors whose sensibilities as performers should mesh well together. Instead, they try to make the most of nothing and it results in a bland adaptation of Levy’s work that never makes it to the shallow end of the pool. 

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Ariane Labed somewhat delights, as she and the beautiful Mediterranean locale are captured with a warm reverence by cinematographer Simos Sarketzis. Coti K’s score, while not fully coming together, is still an admirable and unique attempt at cross-pollinating various sounds you’d never expect would pair together.

THE BAD - Justin Anderson’s direction is a dull and faux-sensual cloaked disappointment, eliciting a slew of below-average performances from the entire cast. His screenplay never reaches the eroticism and intelligence it thinks it exudes, building to a comically underbaked finale.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 3/10

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Giovanni Lago
Giovanni Lago
Devoted believer in all things cinema and television. Awards Season obsessive and aspiring filmmaker.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Ariane Labed somewhat delights, as she and the beautiful Mediterranean locale are captured with a warm reverence by cinematographer Simos Sarketzis. Coti K’s score, while not fully coming together, is still an admirable and unique attempt at cross-pollinating various sounds you’d never expect would pair together.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Justin Anderson’s direction is a dull and faux-sensual cloaked disappointment, eliciting a slew of below-average performances from the entire cast. His screenplay never reaches the eroticism and intelligence it thinks it exudes, building to a comically underbaked finale.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>3/10<br><br>"SWIMMING HOME"