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Femme Filmmakers Festival Review: Kristen Stewart’s Come Swim

Originally published November 15, 2017

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live. — Norman Cousins

Many of us have a fear of the water, there is something unnerving about what lurks beneath us and the threat of being pulled under. Kristen Stewart’s (yes, that Kristen Stewart from Twilight) debut Come Swim manages to capture this fear and anxiety of water and the endless repetition of the element of loss. We can’t live without water, but too much is deadly, it can be our greatest friend or our deadliest foe. Water is like the concept of love; we need love to survive, but it can destroy us. An individual’s feeling a loss cannot be truly expressed in words, it’s a feeling, a raw emotion which is difficult to comprehend but Stewart successfully manages to capture that feeling with her film.

Rather than release a full length feature film, Stewart has decided to release a short surreal avant-garde piece which may frustrate some with its ambiguity and it’s lack of explanation. The film deals with a man’s loss, opening with him treading water and then cutting to him waking up on a mattress in an unknown room, as he tries to go about his day travelling from one surreal setting to the next, all the while trying to quench his thirst. The whole first segment of the film has a Lynch-esque dream like style, with jump cuts and cut of action transporting our character from one setting to another, the editing is used to great effect to illustrate the surreal nature of dreams. The second segment of the film is a more traditional approach to storytelling and narrative cinema, but it’s still haunting through it use of sounds and echoes.


A voiceover narration between the man and his lover (whose fate remains unknown) repeats on a loop as they discuss swimming, the phase “You’re dead. Dead meat.” can offer sound like a joke being exchange between boyfriend and girlfriend, but when it’s repeated several more times then it takes on a whole new meaning. And perhaps Stewart chose to do this to represent how the human memory works, how we become obsessed in finding a hidden meaning to words when we reflect back on them.

Stewart has made a bold decision to make Come Swim as her first debut, art house cinema is not always easy to sell to the masses but it is her originality and her eye for cinema which keeps viewer hooked. It is certainly one of the most stylish visually short films that I have seen for a while, and it calls for repeating viewing. Every time you watch it, you come to a new conclusion as to what has happened to this man and his partner. Have they just gone their separate ways, did she die or is there something more sinister at play? It is refreshing not to know the answers and to come up to your own conclusion, and it is also refreshing to see the emergence of a new female film-maker who has her own distinctive voice and auteur style.

It’ll be interesting to see what Stewart will make next, and she should feel proud of her debut. Being behind the camera is not an easy task to master, and Stewart has taken on a new challenge which I’m sure she’ll make a great success of.

Watch the full short now:


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