The Swimmer – ★★★★ (BFI Flare)

The Swimmer – ★★★★ (BFI Flare)

Filmmaker Adam Kalderon subverts expectations with his film The Swimmer. Full of subtlety and care with an outstanding performance from Omer Perelman Striks. You are left with a tension inducing drama that compels from start to finish.

Erez (Omer Perelman Striks), a rising star in the Israeli swimming scene, arrives at a godforsaken training camp held in a boarding school. The one to win the competition gets a ticket to the Olympics. There he meets the beautiful and talented Nevo (Asaf Jonas), who awakens subconscious desires in him. Warned to stay away from Nevo, Erez is still too attracted to him. He attempts to act upon his feelings between practices and understands that winning a medal is less important than winning Nevo’s heart.

The Swimmer is a wonderful psychological drama that keeps you continually on your toes. You are never quite sure where writer-director Adam Kalderon is taking us. He could easily take us down a romantic root with the amount of sexual tension that blasts through the screen. Yet, he is almost meticulous with how he feeds us his story. Subtle jabs come here and there as you become immersed with Erez’s journey. leaving you unprepared for what comes next. This is a compelling film with some truly remarkable performances.

Omer Perelman Striks devastates you as the repressed Erez, a young man who requires escaping his current situation. He conjures a finely tuned balance for his character. You are always engaged and sympathetic towards him and his experience at the camp. At times those experiences can even be difficult to watch, due to how wrapped in tension they are. By the films end, you would be hard placed not to find yourself rooting for him. Whether that is during that final competition or just in finding himself as a person. He is a character you want the best for.

A young man groomed since childhood by his once Olympic hopeful father. Made into a swimming machine, it is clear that Erez has never had the chance to do what he wants. Striks perfectly conveys the confusion and anger that is deep within his character. He is begging for freedom through The Swimmer, although he may not be saying it verbally. But thanks to Striks, you can see the desperation in his eyes.

Compounding Erez’s isolation is the most sterile training venue you can imagine. Purposely created to ensure an athletes sole focus is on their training. There is no joy or hope to be had in this concreate conclave, making it perfect for the coaches desired aims. You either break or win at this type of camp, there is nothing else to distract. Despite this, Erez has found a distraction, a pretty big one in fact with in fellow competitor Nevo. Erez is lured to him, and even despite their coach’s continual threats, he cannot help himself as his infatuation grows.

The supporting cast in The Swimmer help excel the entire piece, be it the glory-seeking Dima to the fantastic Nadia Kucher as gymnast coach Paloma. Her inclusion in the film allows for Erez to begin to find the confidence required to be who he needs to be. So, as he becomes more defiant to coach Dima and gets ultimately gets punished for it, he knows there is a safety net in Paloma to help calm his mind.

Due to his life, there is a fair chance that Paloma, is the only person bar his mother to take in interest in Erez as a person. An example of this is that Erez has the chance to visit home for a weekend, but declines to, most likely knowing that he would not return if his mother saw what had become of him. He needs Paloma to look behind the facade and care properly for him. Her guidance is key to him finding himself.

The pressure placed on Erez is simply too much and something that Kalderon raises here in The Swimmer. These are all young men forced into a situation where only one of them can make it. They are forced to rid themselves of friendship in the search for glory. This mindset may have worked in the past, but as we can see with Dima and Erez’s father. Their mentality has left them chasing a dream in these younger men and it cannot be healthy.

The brunt of this psychological torment comes from his coach Dima (Igal Reznik), who wants to taste glory again and see this current crop as his best chance. A man who sees that Erez is distracted by Nevo puts psychological pressure upon him to snuff such thoughts out. He tells Erez how talented he is, how his potential could be immeasurable, but only if he cuts out his thoughts of being with another man. Such relationships will lose him opportunities. Of course, this mentally wrecks Erez, who is so conflicted in his thoughts that his downfall is all but inevitable.

As much as The Swimmer is a film about a man discovering who he wants to be, it is also a searing insight into the homophobia that surrounds elite athletics. In a movie that never blatantly shows its hand, Kalderon even has Dima’s threat be succinctly veiled. His words may sound like he is talking about friendships, but he and Erez both know what he really means. It is this clever writing that keeps the tension as uncomfortable as possible. We, as an audience, are waiting for the moment Erez explodes. We are not sure what he will do or when it will happen. Yet we know it is coming; too much is going on in his head for him to keep his angst inside.

By having us at the edge of our seats throughout his story, Kalderon allows himself to be more creative with some gorgeous visuals. Finally, when we get to the end sequences, you are as riveted by the story as you are to what is being presented, thanks to some fantastic choices from the filmmaker. He feeds us little pieces here and there to give us an ending that is thoroughly earned and perfect for the character of Erez.

There are evident problems in the world of elite sport regarding homophobia. Kalderon however highlights this issue fearlessly and at the same time gives us a protagonist we can cling to. He allows The Swimmer to be a film about releasing that repression and to fight back and express yourself to be the person you should have always been. To fight against such toxic environments and be the best version of yourself in your own mind. His confidence as a film-maker shows that no matter what project comes next, you will be there for it.


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