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The deep end

7 minutes

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One girl’s long, scary route from changing room to swimming pool

It’s hard to think about swimming in any colour other than blue – the aquamarine of a tiled pool, the azure of a freshwater lake, the navy of the open ocean. Blue is to swimming as green is to gardening, or purple is to stargazing. And yet the sea was never blue, as the philosopher Maria Michaela Sassi writes; in fact, ‘within the entirety of ancient Greek literature you cannot find a single pure blue sea or sky’.

There is no blue in the colour palette of the hand-drawn animation Le Grand Bain (‘The Deep End’) by the French filmmaker Elise Augarten. There is no green or purple either. In fact, the whole film eschews colour, opting for a monochrome mood board: coarse black crayon on scratchy cream paper. It’s a suitably childlike form through which to see the world of the film’s young protagonist.

A little girl with a dark bob and a black one-piece sits awkwardly, nervously on the bench of a swimming pool’s changing rooms. Around her, the voluminous bodies of adult women bulge and sway and jiggle into view, crowding her personal space as she squishes herself into a small ball of anxiety. Her pre-adolescent discomfort is palpable, and that’s even before a woman (her mother?) sashays into shot, hips shoving her aside on the bench and lips leaning in for a noisy peck before handing the girl her goggles and sending her on her way.

But the way ahead is perilous – the tiled floor stretches forward into infinity, the sounds of laughter reverberate ominously, and there are massive obstacles en route. A fat man in the communal shower, his rolls of flesh threatening to engulf her. A woman in a bikini licking an ice cream, obscenely. A synchronised swimming team in the pool, their legs manically scissoring the air above water that has become an unbreachable, unfathomable black.

Augarten was a student of motion design and cinema animation in the south of France when she made this short piece in 2017, as her graduation film. Although a few years older than her young protagonist, she clearly hasn’t forgotten what it feels like to be an emerging woman, to feel the pain of others’ eyes on you, convinced your body is being assessed and found wanting, and certain that the world is a scary, threatening place. Her sketchy strokes on rough paper are an inspired medium for conveying this feeling of inner discomfort, the itchy antsiness of approaching adolescence.

But as the little girl dips her toes in the water, the darkness lifts: all that scratchiness is soothed, the black choppy water turns clear and smooth, and there’s the sound of waves lapping at the shore. There’s still no fleck of blue in sight, but we know that this little girl’s day is about to go swimmingly.

Written by Elena Seymenliyska

Director: Elise Augarten

28 July 2021