Cinema, at its most innocent, is a place where children can have fantastic adventures while the adults watching them from the other side of the screen worry though somehow or other it always manages to turn out OK. From the anxious whimsy of the The Little Fugitive, to the melancholy dreaminess of Palle all Alone in the World, and on to the anarchy of Home Alone, children in movies are much more resourceful than we give then credit for. The Night I Swam (La Nuit où j’ai nagé / 泳ぎすぎた夜, Oyogisugita Yoru), a Japanese/French co-production co-directed by A Young Poet’s Damien Manivel and Hold Your Breath Like a Lover’s Kohei Igarashi, is testament to this as its central little hero sets off on a perilous journey to show his dad, who has to leave very early for work at the fish market in town, a drawing he made of a fish.
One fateful morning, while it’s still dark outside, a little boy wakes up and hears his father smoking a cigarette in the kitchen before going to work. The boy can’t get back to sleep. He tries to wake his mum but she’s deep asleep so he plays with the family dog, has a game with his toy animals, watches some TV and then draws a picture of a fish before trying to get a little more shuteye before he has to get up for school. The consequence of this is he’s very sleepy when it comes to getting ready in the morning as his mum helps him into the ski pants, jacket, and pretty blue hat that will keep him warm in the thick snow which is currently piled higher than his head on the way out of their home.
The little boy puts the drawing in his backpack and then sets off, but when he reaches the school gates he makes a surprising decision. He turns around, climbs over a fence and escapes! Playing in the snow for a while it seems as if the boy just didn’t fancy a day cooped up indoors but he has a plan and it requires getting on a train into the city…
The little boy’s journey is occasionally perilous. It’s certainly freezing cold out there, surrounded by snow and and ice, and the little tyke is so tired that at one point he just collapses and falls asleep in the snow. Somehow or other he seems to rally himself and continue on his journey even if he sheds some of his tools as he goes including a precious glove which he takes off to peel the oranges he’s brought along for sustenance. Once in the city he makes a dangerous dash across an icy road, wanders around a department store, and spends a while sitting in a food court, observing the busy lives around him like a visitor from a dream. When he gets to the fish market, it’s already closed, the place is eerily empty and deserted, waiting for the next day’s activity to begin.
Disheartened and completely exhausted, the boy starts testing doors on the cars in the carpark before crawling into a open van to keep warm and falls asleep. Luckily, the boy’s story has a happy ending as he meets some nice people who help him get back to his family safe and sound where he finally gets some proper sleep after his long adventure. The film’s most touching moments occur at the end as the boy’s dad hangs up his wet clothes to dry before looking at the drawing which the boy’s sister has pinned on the fridge before falling asleep next to his son, sharing this small amount of time they have together, while the boy’s mother watches TV downstairs with her little girl.
Shot in academy ratio and entirely dialogue free, The Night I Swam has an innocent, dreamlike quality as the little boy wanders through the snow, wide eyed and curious but set on reaching his destination even though he is clearly very tired, not to mention cold. Broken into three chapters with picture book font titles, The Night I Swam is a beautifully elliptical tale filled with whimsy and melancholy as the boy and his father are kept apart by practical concerns but united, perhaps, in dreams.
Currently available to view via Festival Scope (€4) until 19th September.