Some movies are better experienced than talked or written about. They take advantage of the medium of cinema in ways that sometimes are forgotten by even the most experienced, respected filmmakers. Movies are a visual medium. They are meant to show rather than tell. The Night I Swam, a Japanese/French co-production co-directed by A Young Poet’s Damien Manivel and Hold Your Breath Like a Lover’s Igarashi Kohei, certainly seems to epitomize this. On paper, the story is described thusly: a 6-year-old boy is awoken by the departure of his father, a fisherman, every night when he makes his way to the market in town. Finding it impossible to fall back to sleep, the young boy draws a picture as the household slumbers and then slips it into his satchel. In the morning on his way to school, still drowsy, he strays off his usual path and wanders into the snow….
Visually, however, it is the young boy’s journey we are shown that is the heart and soul of the movie. Shot in the majestic snowy vistas of Hokkaido and completely devoid of dialogue, Manivel and Igarashi take the bold approach of allowing the landscape, the sounds, the music and the boy’s actions to take center stage (with a little aid from handwritten placards). They have created, essentially, a fairy tale picture book through which the viewer shares in the boy’s adventure. In fact, one could append the story description above with “Once upon a time…” at the opening and it would not feel out of place.
At a 79 minute running-time, the directors have also been careful not to stretch their tale beyond reason or patience. The result looks to be one of those magical portraits of childlike sincerity sometimes needed amid the helter-skelter pace of modern life. World-premiering at the 74th Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti Competition, the movie then played at the 65th San Sebastian International Film Festival before making its Japanese premiere at the 2017 Tokyo FILMeX.