The Night I Swam (2017): Written and directed by Damien Manivel and Kohei Igarashi. Starring: Takara Kogawa. Running Time: 78 minutes.
This is one of those particularly challenging films that demands full and undivided attention for the viewer to make any sense of it; anything less and you’ll be bored to tears. I can’t help but feel that this movie’s premise would have been better served by being a short film, but it is nonetheless a brave effort, and I applaud its vision.
Told with no dialogue at all, and very nearly zero music, the movie opens with a shot of a man sitting in his darkened kitchen before heading out for work in the pre-sunrise darkness of an early winter morning. A thick, fresh snow covers the entire town, suffusing every shot of the film with blankets of pure white. The child wakes up a bit later, prepares for school, then heads out for the day, armed with lunch, warm clothes, a camera, and a crayon drawing of his pa. After school- or maybe during school, it’s never particularly clear what time it is- he seems to be struck by a thought, gets up, and sets out through the snow.
The images and scenes that follow, of a boy wandering through the snowscape wanting to see his father, make for a strange and contemplative experience, one most viewers may very well find off-putting. It takes a bit to piece together why, exactly, this boy suddenly wants or needs to see his father, but it is a touching moment indeed when the answer is finally hinted at. We can guess at a life where the father is out working at all possible hours, and therefore he and his son barely ever see each other awake. Children notice these things, even when we think they don’t, and perhaps the boy finally thought, “Enough is enough. I want my Dad.”
What to make of this film, silent, sparse, depicted wholly from the perspective of a somewhat-lost child? It’s not an easy one to parse out, but maybe that’s the point. To be a child is to be surrounded by big things, most of which you can’t really grasp. It is to lose track of time as a matter of course, to have it stretch and bend like a rubber band, to have moments where it seems as if the world is at a perfect standstill. Such memories of what that feels like fade as we inevitably age, so it’s perhaps good to have films like this to remind us of what we once were.