Kristen Stewart is fast becoming my favorite actress. She was far and away the best thing about Café Society, and was phenomenal in the all-around wonderful Clouds of Sils Maria. Now, she’s baring a different side of her soul in her directorial debut, the short film Come Swim.
To call Come Swim avant-garde would be dismissive. It is a sublime and ultra-modern piece of arty cinema. A taught 18-minutes that is so compulsively engrossing it feels like closer to a third of that run time.
A lot of care and money has clearly been lavished on this short film. It has all the high-def polish of an expensive car or perfume commercial, and has a sound design that would be sure to impressive even David Lynch. There are actually a couple of shots which feel pretty Lynchican – one repeated shot of Josh struggling under water, for example, feels distinctly similar to a shot from Twin Peaks: The Return where Cooper flies through space en route from the Black Lodge. But Lynch knockoff this most certainly is not. Stewart’s artistic voice is rings loud and clear throughout.
Make no mistake, this is a confidently competent debut. And even if you are left scratching your head somewhat – what exactly does it mean, what exactly is it about – the film absolutely nails the feeling it intends to evoke. Stewart herself has been quoted as suggesting the film is about depression. At least in part. Her stated goal was to visualize and externalize the tempest of internal emotions in this film, while noting that, in real life, to other people, the sufferer just looks pathetic. Well, mission accomplished. Come Swim manages to capture this feeling and articulate it extraordinarily well. And yet, throughout, we are kept sympathizing with Josh. In the majority of scenes where we see him in real life, we still see the world through his perspective – watching him from out of his body – and we feel that he feels pathetic. Which is exactly why he craves the turmoil of the water crushing down on top of him – at least then he has an excuse for feeling how he feels. The refuge of his fantasy that he is a martyr in this cruel, cruel world. It is a vivid expression of the intangible realness that depression can be.
I have my own thoughts on the answers to those two questions I just raised – what exactly does it mean, what exactly is it about – but I’m sure other viewers come away with their own thoughts. Which, to me, is exactly why I love art cinema so much. I love to be entertained and made to experience certain feelings, but at the end of the day I want to be left to my own conclusions to an extent. I do realize that might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Come Swim is a stunning and hypnotic piece of true cinema from the very first frame. It loved it. And I can’t wait to see what the girl from Panic Room does next whether on screen or off.