Coach Meng is tough. But the judges are tougher, and incorrigibly subjective. Synchronized swimming will always be mocked, but if the public knew what went on behind the scenes, they’d think very differently.
“It’s what the top athletes do, plus no oxygen.”
In Perfect, Jérémie Battaglia follows the trials and tribulations of the Canadian Synchro team. Coach Meng’s athletes don’t look like clones. Some are tall; some are short. Different body types and skin tones dive into an Olympic pool without matchy-matchy warpaint to make their facial expressions as alike as possible. Diversity won’t stand in Meng’s way to push her girls to the top. The uphill battle is not only due to the physical and mental stress upon any hopeful Olympian. Additionally it is because in Synchro history we are accustomed to uniformity, even if it is painted onto the swimmers’ pseudo-happy faces. This gives the illusion of synchronicity even when timing or teamwork is lacking.
No matter how much captain Marie-Lou pulls her teammates together, or how hard they work at group connectedness, it never seems enough for the judges. Politics are present in the majority of votes. Judges seem to see the superficial parts of the competition over technique.
The girls work not only with a coach, but also with theatre directors, choreographers and dieticians to assist them toward Perfection. In contrast to what the general public knows Synchro swimmers to be, Team Canada is told they are not robots, but a group of humans sharing emotions with an audience. This comes through in Battaglia’s staged underwater sequences depicting Marie-Lou in full makeup and non-aquatic attire. As she floats in solitude, we realize there is a more introspective aspect to the ‘characters’ in this story. Indeed, Battaglia shows a side to the athlete that is more human.
Despite never cracking the Top 3, the team continues to work toward making Synchro a more objectively judged sport. They will be at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to continue showing the world that Canada can be diverse without sacrificing perfection.
Canada China International Film Festival: September 23 – 27, 2017 at Concordia University.