A little history of this “girls’ sport” which is at the heart of Gilles Lellouche’s drama.
Gilles Lellouche succeeded with Le Grand Bain, a comedy-drama set against a backdrop of male synchronized swimming, to (re)see this Sunday on TF1. Quite rightly presented as a “Full Monty the French way”, his film paints the portrait of several men with complicated daily lives, who will rediscover the taste for life thanks to this sport… unexpected, because in the collective unconscious, it is a feminine discipline.
Take the test around you: if you bring up the subject, your sports friends will certainly tell you about the naiads of the Olympic Games in sequined swimsuits and waterproof make-up, moviegoers will no doubt mention Esther Williams, the Hollywood actress who was a hit after the war thanks to mermaids balland rock fans may sing to you “Airplane”the tube of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, whose clip paid tribute to the aquatic musicals of the 1930s to 1950s…
Cannes 2018 – Le Grand bain, by Gilles Lellouche: A French-style aquatic Full Monty?
Yet historically, synchronized swimming was originally a male sport. In Antiquity, the Olympiads notably included aquatic events, with young Greeks having to perform tricks in the waters of the Alpheios River. And the first officially recorded competition, which took place in Berlin in 1891, was reserved for men: at the time, we were not talking about synchronized swimming but “of ornamental swimming.”
It was at the beginning of the 20th century that everything changed: swimmers were upstaged by women, notably Annette Kellerman, who seduced New Yorkers with an aquatic ballet in 1907. In 1923, her American compatriot Katerine Curtis founded the first synchronized swimming club at a university in Wisconsin. A year later, the first rules are fixed, then it will be necessary to wait another decade for this discipline to gain in popularity thanks to Hollywood productions, this same swimmer having had the desire to choreograph ballets for the cinema. The big star of this type of aquatic musicals is Esther Williams, who was a hit in George Sidney’s musical films such as Le Mermaid Ball (1944) and Jupiter’s Thigh (1955) or in The First Mermaid (1952), by Mervyn LeRoy, in which the actress plays Annette Kellerman.
Le Grand Bain – Gilles Lellouche: “It’s completely stupid what they’re doing!”
From the 1950s, Europe in turn fell in love with this sport, which requires great muscular energy and unfailing breath. It will however be necessary to wait until 1984 for it to become an Olympic discipline: until now, swimmers could participate in demonstrations of artistic swimming, but they did not appear in competition. Once officially added, it becomes the only 100% women’s sport in the Olympics with rhythmic gymnastics. Twenty years later, in 2014, a new mixed duet event was organized and the Russian Alexandr Maltsev became the first synchronized swimming world champion with his partner Darina Valitova.
In recent years, synchronized swimming has therefore opened up to diversity, with more and more clubs offering lessons without distinction of gender. In The Great Baththis sport is certainly not chosen at random: if Lellouche obviously plays with this received idea of “sports for girls”, he uses it above all to show little by little that he allows his characters to free themselves from codes, clichés and fashion. It helps them solve their problems far beyond the gates of the pool, becoming particularly important for its friendly aspect, swimmers having to help each other if they want to succeed in their goals. You can find our review here:
Le Grand Bain: Everyone in the water! (Critical)
trailer of Big Bathto see again this weekend on television: