Quietly magnificent – that was my reaction to seeing Sólveig Anspach’s film The Aquatic Effect for the first time. Seeing the film again, the same thought returned in greater force, with an emphasis on magnificent. Anspach, whose untimely death in 2015 was a loss to cinema, had an unerring sense of human feelings, endless playfulness, a feel for the random, quirky aspects of life, and an abiding warmth. Laugh-out-loud funny, fast-paced, romantic, and perhaps the most likely solution for peace in the Middle East, The Aquatic Effect *(L’effet aquatique, also known as The Together Project in some English sources) was Anspach’s final film, the last in a trilogy that includes The Queen of Montreuil (2012) and Back Soon (2008), bringing together some of the characters from the previous films.
Hanging out in a neighborhood bar, Samir (Samir Guesmi) observes a volatile woman rebuff the advances of an obvious player, put a song on the jukebox, sing a few bars with sensual heat, then walk out of the bar. It’s what the French call un coup de foudre – literally, a thunderbolt – for Samir it’s love (or at least serious lust) at first sight. The spurned man joins Samir at the door, and as they watch the retreating figure, lets him know that this is Agathe (Florence Loiret Caille), a swimming instructor at the municipal pool. Determined, Samir embarks on the wackiest way to win Agathe’s heart. It’s a path that will eventually take him all the way to Iceland, with scenes of breathtaking landscape.
Anspach creates characters that are at once bizarre and utterly credible, like Corinne (Olivia Côte) the flirty, blonde lifeguard who is about as inappropriate as can be, ogling the swimmers; Reboute (Philippe Rebbot) the awkward pool manager with a wildly inflated notion of his own appeal; and the young pool clerk Daniel (Estéban) with his cheery matter-of-fact demeanor, capable of bursting Samir’s bubble with a smile. Best of all, post-hippie Anna (Didda Jónsdóttir) returns as a city councilor, sharing the job with long-haired sidekick Frosti (Frosti Runólfson) by alternating days.
Samir Guesmi and Florence Loiret Caille have a sizzling onscreen chemistry, from the moment his puppy-dog brown eyes meet her sharp, penetrating gaze. It’s a rare pleasure to see such a fully realized female protagonist in a romantic comedy. Agathe is a woman of many attributes. Intelligent, professional and capable, she has a strict moral code, especially when it comes to prevarication, and she is also fun, playful, sensual, and on occasion, vulnerable. Samir’s earnest, yet often bumbling, efforts inspire laughter and empathy. I was shipping these two all the way. There is an irrepressible optimism to the film, as best expressed by Anna’s comment: “a little guy can do a lot of things, especially if it’s a woman.”
The Aquatic Effect is distributed in Israel by Eden Films and opens in select theatres on Thursday, December 27, 2018.
The Aquatic Effect
France/Iceland, 2016, 83 min, French, English, Icelandic with English and
Directed by Sólveig Anspach; Screenplay: Sólveig Anspach, Jean-Luc Gaget; Editor: Anne Riegel; Cinematographer: Isabelle Razavet; Music: Martin Wheeler; Cast: Florence Loiret Caille, Samir Guesmi, Didda Jónsdóttir, Olivia Côte, Frosti Runólfson, Estéban, Philippe Rebbot
*The Aquatic Effect and Queen of Montreuil were shown at the 2016 OH LÀ LÀ! Festival of French comedies. https://www.midnighteast.com/mag/?p=35463