Swedish men are already inherently funny and tall, but how about when they’re in a pool making stiff, Busby Berkley-style “stork legs” together? Filmmaker Dylan Williams squeezes some pretty amusing material out of the situation in Tall Men Who Swim—screening tonight on the Knowledge Network—which chronicles his involvement with Sweden’s brilliantly named male synchronized swimming team, the Stockholm Art Swim Gents.
But the humour is gentle, and incidental to the film’s larger themes. Williams was a transplanted Brit with a failing career, few friends, a family to support, and his 40th birthday on the horizon when he chose to go water dancing with the Gents. It’s his less-than-obvious remedy for middle-aged malaise; a condition that he shares with all of his teammates—like bored middle-management type Mark (“in the pool he got to be the rebel…”), intense and highly Swedish meatbuyer Rickard (“Stockholm Art Swim Gents is a protest against the meaningless of life…” he growls, darkly), and failed musician Lars, who finds that competitive synchronized swimming is “a bit like being in a rock band.”
In truth, Men Who Swim plays a little fast and loose with the narrative as the Gents fuss their way into international competition (the razor-sharp Japanese look particularly fearsome compared to the Gents’ flabbier demeanor, but nobody looks as ridiculous as the horizontally-striped Czechs). Williams focuses on the bickering, the failures, and the team’s basic inability to get into the pool on time, all while a pair of female coaches watch these be-goggled man-children with a mixture of bemusement and frustration, and an Italian sports radio DJ wonders aloud why they’re involved in “a sport for homosexuals.”
As such, the ending doesn’t feel entirely honest, but it’s also a minor complaint set against the film’s more important, less tangible goal—which is mainly to provide a truthful look at the interior life of the decent, but slightly lost middle class white Euro-man. It might not have the hard-edge of a lot of the other documentaries on the Knowledge Network’s Storyville series, but Men Who Swim is no less affecting.
Men Who Swim screens tonight at 9:00 and 12:00 on the Knowledge Network