QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM ROTTERDAM
Based on the eponymous novel by Deborah Levy, Swimming Home opens with the body of the enigmatic Kitti (Ariadne Labed) floating naked in the swimming pool of a coastal villa somewhere in Greece. Bosnian writer Joe (Christopher Abbott), his beautiful wife Isabel (Mackenzie Davis), their 15-year-old-daughter Nina (Freya Hannan-Mills), and their friend Laura (Nadine Labaki) are shocked by the discovery. Kitti’s face is down and her body looks lifeless. Suddenly, she stands up and reveals to be not just alive but also remarkably vivacious. Empowered by her nudity, she confronts each member of the family, as they attempt to figure where she came from and how she entered the house.
All members of the family become infatuated with the sexy stranger, who unabashedly forces herself into their lives. Comparisons to Pasolini’s Theorem (1968) immediately come to mind. These are firmly confirmed once you find out that Anderson’s 2014 short film Jumper was overtly inspired by the classic from the 1960s. Apparently, the British director has not extended his comment to the 2024 movie, but the parallels are as crystal clear as the waters of the Mediterranean just below villa. There is no apparent reason for Kitti’s arrival, and the Teutonic-looking, irresistible stranger does not even know where she comes from: “I don’t remember where I was born. My mother is the river, and I am always on the move“, she explains. It is with such fluidity that she seeps into the intimacy of this international family. Joe begins to suspect that she might pose a threat to their existence. Attraction gradually morphs into fear.
The director told Variety that they conducted Freudian analysis of the individual characters. Indeed there is shortage of phalluses to be envied as our characters stroll along the nude beach nearby and interact with sailors and bathers, all of them with a perfectly chiseled body. Perhaps Kitti is a projection of male fears and paranoid fantasies, a terrifying monstrous feminine figure compatible with horror movies. At times, she crawls on her back and contorts her body (a little like Sadako of Hideo Nakata’s Ring, from 1998), in the local Crab Club (a dance plot clumsily inserted into the story). Bushy pubes, overgrown body hair and a large mysterious hole in the ground (into which Kitti climbs in and out) have a prominent symbolic role, as the director intersperses the action with highly allegorical sequences. A creepy score featuring humming, croaking and electronic microbeats crafts a sense of danger and alienation. The highly saturated, exquisite cinematography emphasises the otherworldliness (the director is a trained painter; and has previously filmed on super 8 and 16mm; he is supported here by DoP Simos Sarketzis).
The dialogues are infused with philosophical platitudes. “Socrates was afraid of snakes/ Socrates was an idiot” is presumably a reference to the peritrope, the snake that devours its own tails (a self-refuting idea). Another conversation. goes: “there is a rat under the sink/ maybe the rat took my pen/ rats don’t write shit/ maybe I should stop writing shit” – maybe a self-referencing, self-deprecating comment on the quality of the film script? Swimming Pool constantly oscillates between the highly cryptic and silly pretentious. There is a touch of absurdism and surrealism, as the director attempts to surf the Greek Weird Wave (in reference to both the geography of the story and film movement). The highly sexualised, tense atmosphere inside an isolated house with a large sunny pool will bring Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth (2009) to mind.
This is a highly ambitious endeavour by a 56-year-old director with experience in film, video, commercials and fine arts. Perhaps a little too ambitious. At times, Swimming Home drowns in its own extravagance and conceit. Nevertheless, I would hazard a guess that Justin Anderson’s debut feature will please many cinephiles, and it likely won’t be his last.
Swimming Home just premiered at the 53rd International Film festival Rotterdam.