A Film a Week - The Aquatic Effect / L'effet aquatique

What have we learned from The Aquatic Effect (L’effet aquatique), the latest and the last film by the French-educated Icelandic director Solveig Anspach who died of breast cancer almost a full year before the film was released? That swimming pool people are quirky. That Iceland is quirky. That love is quirky. And that amnesia can serve as a fresh start if the whole relationship was based on a lie, which is also quirky. I have no problem with quirkiness per se, but when it is being combined with overwhelming randomness in the terms of plot... It can be tricky.

It all starts with Samir (Samir Guesmi) buying his palm-decorated bathing shorts, which leads him to buying a season ticket for the local swimming pool, which leads him to falling in love at first sight with the lifeguard / swimming instructor Agathe (Florence Loiret Caille), which leads him to making her believe he cannot swim, so he could take classes with her in order to seduce her. Once when the truth is out, (and nobody likes lies, mkay?) she is so cross with him that she flies all the way to Iceland to a lifeguard convention.

And he follows her there, so the silly stream of events continues: he steals the identity of an Israeli representative so he can attend the conference. Under pressure to invent something really quickly, he comes up with, as he says, “together project” of building pools between Israel and Palestine so people can relax. He becomes an instant star, but Agathe is still unimpressed. And it turns out that Samir and Agathe both know the conference host Anna (Didda Jónsdóttir), which is funny because they are from the same French town and they didn’t know each other before, and that leads to both of them staying with her, bringing their awkward chemistry with them, which leads to Samir being accidentally electrocuted and contracting aforementioned amnesia...

Yeah, love is strange, and, according to Anspach and her co-writer/director Jean-Luc Gaget, so is pretty much everything else in life. There are several subplots involving quirky characters: French, Icelandic and the ones in the pool safety business, just to underline it. Somewhere in the background we can see a debate going on about cultural differences between two countries, with free body culture opposed to puritanism and fois-gras as a symbol of food industry opposed to sustainable eco-friendly farming, but it almost never reaches the spotlight.

On top of that, all three main characters are familiar to the viewers from Solveig Anspach’s previous films, Back Soon (2008) and Queen of Montreuil (2012), but now they are being put in a different context. Even their occupations and careers are different: Anna used to be a pot dealer and Agathe was a film director in previous instalments. I guess Solveig Anspach just likes to play with the idea of fluidity in life.

And, frankly, it is borderline ridiculous, but still, The Aquatic Effect is a pleasant journey. Grounded by the solid performances of the actors, in which Samir Guesmi’s clumsy confusion and Florence Loiret Caille’s nervousness is balanced by Didda Jónsdóttir’s act of cool, it kinda works. Also, the “photography porn” of the amazing Icelandic nature and crystal clear underwater shots can only help. In the end, it is hard to say if the overall result is good, since the film is not even trying to make sense, but it is fun and it is warm.

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