After the heroics of tiny Iceland in the Euro soccer tournament held in France (they managed unceremoniously to boot England out of the Euros, which seemed like poetic justice after Britain voted to boot themselves out of Europe), it felt oddly appropriate to watch a Franco-Icelandic film on a searingly hot day in Paris. L’Effet Aquatique is the final film made by director Sólveig Anspach, who died last August of breast cancer at the age of 54.
Set in both Paris and Iceland, L’Effet Aquatique follows two characters who appeared in Anspach’s previous film, Queen of Montreuil (2012): Samir (played with goofy charm by Samir Guesmi), who falls for swimming instructor Agathe (Florence Loiret Caille). By pretending he cannot swim, Samir gets to spend time in close proximity to Agathe.
Anyone who has gone swimming in French municipal pools will appreciate Anspach’s satirical depiction of the absurd bureaucracy of these institutions as Samir variously finds himself locked in a faulty changing cabin and tries to change instructors (eliciting the repeated response from municipal staff that “c’est le planning qui décide” [“it’s the schedule that decides”] which teacher he has). Inevitably, at a moment of crisis (a woman falls into the pool), Samir reveals that he is in fact a very able swimmer, thereby blowing his cover as a novice. The comedy up to this point is affectionate and absorbing.
When Samir follows Agathe to Iceland, however, where she is attending a world congress for swimming instructors, the movie loses both its focus and believability. There are some fun moments, such as when Samir poses as the Israeli delegate and makes a speech at the conference, but for all the visual splendor of the countryside (I wouldn’t be surprised if the Icelandic Tourist Board helped finance the film), Anspach’s attempt to depict the small-town nature of Icelandic life falls at the far end of the quirkiness spectrum, and the two local officials who alternate in the same job become more irritating than charming.
If wafer-thin comedy is your preferred summer enjoyment, then you could do far worse than to see L’Effet Aquatique, especially if (as I did with my movie companion) you can emerge into the steaming July evening and enjoy a meal overlooking the water on the Canal de l’Ourcq.