The Swimmer review: 'Guy candy sports drama stays in the shallow end'

Screening as part of this year's BFI FLARE: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival


Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: Provided

"I hate water, but I love winning," says cocky, pumped-up Olympic hopeful Erez in The Swimmer. A more horrifically depressing anti-sports slogan is hard to imagine - until another overtakes it. ("Competitive sport is a disease for the body and soul.")

That said, director Adam Kalderon's short, slight sports drama, set in an elite Israeli training camp and screening as part of BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival, isn't quite the swampy, toxic masculinity bacchanal you might expect.

For starters, Erez - shrewdly played by Omer Perelman Striks - is intriguingly multifaceted. His alpha male energy in public is strong, but his twirling, pop music-loving energy in private is stronger. Crucially, the two don't contradict each other: Erez's confidence is such that, for all the cliched "f****ty" banter he sidesteps in the showers, he can hardly be bothered concealing his queer side - or his raging crush on competitor Nevo (played by Asaf Jonas), much to the fury of their coach. 

Erez's IDGAF attitude his refreshing, and there's something transgressive about the camp's highly stylised environment, too. It's prison-like, but modern, and painted in soft, feminine tones like a gay spaceship. It's in the middle of nowhere, but constantly bathed in glorious weather and surrounded by gorgeous, lovingly shot scenery. Witnessing all this, and the campers themselves at the peak of physical health, is weirdly utopian. 

The pool scenes in particular - of which there are many - are almost unbearably inviting, and shots of toned bodies wriggling through immensely satisfying shades of blue are splendid, fascinating... and sexless.

That's right: despite its abundance of eye-popping press imagery and changing room towel whips therein, The Swimmer is surprisingly light on titillation. The background characters are gorgeous yet pedestrian: a small army of boring, personality-free, identikit sportsman who take to regimented conformity so naturally, they just have to be cis-het. They're utterly detached from their own sex appeal, like the extras in Kylie Minogue's equally Speedos-tastic 'Slow' video: cold, clinical, but compelling.

Speaking of music videos, there's a pretty daring group dance break that - despite some charmingly clumsy moves - injects a ton of energy at a vital moment. The film's opener, meanwhile, is memorably ingenious: credits appear over a bare body slathered in shaving cream, as a fastidious hand shears the tiniest of hairs with a razor. It's mesmerising, but tense - I had Sweeny Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street flashback anxiety - and sums up the film's clinical eroticism.

These moments of innate creativity bookend, and compensate for, a bafflingly thin plot. Our lead actor's playful, popping performance also elevates the film: by the end, he goes all-out man-diva as Erez, dialing up a stinking, surly attitude and unveiling an attention-grabbing blonde buzzcut that would make Eminem proud. Also serving pop star charisma is the glamourously made-up Nadia Kucher as faded Olympic champ-turned-trainer Paloma. Her 'cool mom' dynamic with Erez is crucial, in that it lends The Swimmer some much-needed emotional breadth.

Rating: 3/5

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