Avigail is at the doctor’s office. In the homestretch of her pregnancy, everything seems to be on track, yet she finds herself terrified. It’s not the reassuring comfort of a doctor nor her partner that she finds herself lacking however—she desires a mentor, and this fretful need ends up with a kidnapping and wacky hinjinks, inspiring a day-long adventure filled with vulnerability and humor. S/W alum Noa Gusakov (Large Soldier) is back on the website with her latest short film How To Swim, a touching story that is rooted in her personal life.
Inspired to write the film after the loss of her mother left her with a desire to find a maternal figure, Gusakov, despite the tragic aspect of the story’s origin, manages to inject her film with a healthy dose of comedy. Extremely pregnant and in need of a mentor, a young Israeli woman tricks an older lady into hanging out with her for an afternoon. How else is a person supposed to get some honest advice? With this story Gusakov proves the adage that specificity is the key to relatability, as the premise sounds farcical, but the insights of the screenplay and its character interactions prove insightful to a huge range of mother/daughter relationships.
Integral to this is the dialogue, which throughout How to Swim feels very natural. The mentor figure, Tammy, delivers witty lines that build a portrait of the character in short order. The first half of the film moves fast, highlighting the comedic aspects, before a change of pace in the second half lands the the story’s emotional beats. This duality is effective, creating a rhythm that hooks the audience and maintains investment, allowing appreciation for both both sides of the story.
What struck me in the film was how it succeeds at being a fun comedy and at the same time a not-overly tragic drama that gives you the feels. This level of engagement from the audience heavily relies on the performances of Dina Sanderson (Avigail) and Orli Zilbershatz (Tammy). Sanderson in particular poignantly portrays how lost and desperate Avigail is, which makes the unusual decision of lying to Tammy totally believable, as the audience empathizes with her despite the deception. Tammy, while less nuanced, is nonetheless an instant crowdpleaser from the first time she appears on screen.
Watching the two of them in the mall is delicious “hang-out” entertainment despite the somewhat unusual (for film at least) pairing of an older woman and a neurotic, extremely pregnant younger one. The resolution of the film delivers too—How to Swim nails its transformation from wacky comedy to poignant character drama with a realistic, subtle ending— two women, both fundamentally decent, sharing a moment of grace, as one simply lends her understanding to the pain of the other. The last seconds of the film perfectly capture its tone and leave a lasting mark on the audience—a smile and an “aww” feeling.
How To Swim had its international premiere at the 2018 edition of the Palm Springs ShortFest and went on to be selected at Encounters, Hamptons, Aspen (to name a few) and was awarded Best Narrative Short in Annapolis, ahead of its online premiere as a Vimeo Staff Pick. With this film and her previously featured short, Gusakov is proving herself to be a fantastic creator of grounded, yet highly enjoyable portraits of femininity, and we’re excited by her future. She is currently working as a screenwriter and editor for TV productions in Israel, while developing her debut feature film.