Film Reviews: Le Grand Bain, Directed by Gilles Lellouche
“Going to play Candy Crush all day again?” carps Bertrand’s teenage son in Le Grand Bain’s opening sequence, watching disdainfully as his unemployed father polishes off a bowl of antidepressant-laced cereal. This breakfast of champs duly slurped, the 40-something plops himself back on the sofa, phone at the ready; much to the dismay of his wife, who has spent the last two years trying to get him out of his funk – and the house.
When Bertrand finally does drag himself out, days later, to a perfunctory sick-leave review, he spots a notice at the municipal pool recruiting new members for an all-male synchronised swimming team and signs up on a whim. To his relief, he’s far from the saddest sack – or least coordinated – in the group. His woefully unfit teammates include short-fused divorcee Laurent, failed (but undeterred) rocker Simon, near-broke Jacuzzi salesman Marcus and the pool’s dopey but kind-hearted handyman Thierry. And their coach, Delphine, isn’t much help. The former gold-medallist and recovering alcoholic’s idea of a training drill boils down to letting the ungainly lot splash about breathlessly as she reads them poetry.
Cue cringe-worthy shaping-up montages of the hopeless mermen doing the eggbeater to such musical doozies as Easy Lover. Eventually, Delphine’s whip-cracking, rage-prone ex-swimming partner steps in, transforming them into water nymphs through sheer bullying and brute force (she whacks them in the shins at the merest misstep!) – just in time for the world championships. Far from your usual cliché-ridden, feel-good fare (a lesser filmmaker could have easily been waylaid by the slapstick potential of middle-aged men with saggy dad bods flailing manically in the shallow end), Gilles Lellouche’s directorial debut is surprisingly subtle and tender, deftly moving between hilarity and heartbreak.
Laugh-out-loud funny (Philippe Katerine is a hoot as the bafflingly un-self-aware Thierry), yet never at the expense of the characters – these lost souls are, after all, wrangling to stay afloat in a world that has swallowed them up, wrung them of hope and spat them out – or their physiques, this sure-footed caper is a cult classic in the making. The make-or-break championship routine to, brace yourselves, Olivia Newton-John’s Physical is hands down the barmiest thing we’ve ever witnessed. Pure, unadulterated joy!
Director: Gilles Lellouche
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Guillaume Canet, Benoît Poelvoorde
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