'Swimming Lesson' by Kat Goh - SIFF Shorts Finalists

Kat Goh's 'Swimming Lesson' won the best film in the SIFF Shorts competition. Incidentally, the still of the little girl learning how to float in the swimming pool has been my masthead for some weeks now. A little lesson learnt from the past becomes a lesson to be treasured for life. 'Swimming Lesson' is an intense family drama about a girl who is leaving home for overseas studies for the first time and gets annoyingly nagged on by her doting mother. Over ear-bursting decibels from raised voices, we are slowly and deliberately directed to a message, a moral-of-the-story.

While the treatment and direction reflect much sincere thought and effort, I often felt the dialogue and acting was too grating for my senses. The doting mother left no stone unturned in making sure that her daughter was fully-equipped for her trip. But that's only fully equipped from her point-of-view. Her definition of being equipped included having freshly-boiled tonics stocked up in the luggage! you get the drift and could possible guess the potential altercations. Furthermore, the mother's nagging voice is one that is excruciating to hear. We dread the onset of any heated debate between her and the other family members.

While other weird objects find their way into the girl's luggage (like a long multi-plug extension cable), the girl finds herself increasingly pressured instead of anticipating her long-awaited liberty. Not only does she get kiasu admonitions about overseas living form her mother, she also has to bear the same from other family members. Sounds like TV drama? Well, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Kat has spent 8 years in TV. The intensity and bite of TV-style argument is ubiquitous in the film. Perhaps what softened its didactic drift was the interspersing of scenes from a swimming lesson. A determined girl tries very hard to perfect her kicks as a basic step in swimming but she is still well within the safe grasp of her swimming instructor who is her father. The greenish hue of the scene suggest that it is a flashback scene, with the girl supposedly representing the current day mother. Like a kind of punctuation, the flashbacks provide a huge amount of relief from the belligerence of the characters.

Sometimes an average film could be saved by a single act of ingenuity. It could be the film equivalent of a 'Eureka!'. I felt 'Swimming Lesson' would have been a rather mediocre film about a trite topic without the grandfather's shocking act of 'leting his hands' go. Well, isn't that what all filmmakers aim to do? Leave an uneraseable spot in the minds of the audience with a single act, an often shocking one.
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