Double feature: “Men Who Swim” and “Helvetica” are two documentaries that feature impossibly urbane Europeans entertainingly calling attention to topics you likely haven’t given much thought to before – male synchronized swimming and typography, respectively.
The differences in their niche subject matter belie the two films’ shared philosophical underpinnings: a common concern with, and argument for the importance of, “quality of life” considerations. Sure, these “lifestyle” factors lie far beyond basic survival needs, but to certain sensibilities (healthily represented in both films) they can seem just as essential.
Both films argue for the importance of injecting beauty into the quotidian, and for the advantages of structuring one’s life so as to have the time and energy to be thoughtful about, and experimental with, its components. Where the two films diverge is in their implicit suggestions for such structuring. “Men Who Swim” recognizes life (and selfhood) as something far beyond the bounds of work, whereas “Helvetica” points to work as one of life’s potential passions, and a defining component of character.
Both films concern themselves with innovation and harmony in the relationships between figures in space, and both provide civilized examples of reasoned discourse and productive argumentation.
At heart, both films make the case that paying attention to – sometimes even overthinking – the details can add meaning to everyday life. Where “Helvetica” does this intellectually, “Men Who Swim” does it emotionally, and thus with greater impact. It takes a humorous conceit and uses it to prove that bravery is often simply having a sense of humor about oneself, and pursuing incidental opportunities without knowing where they might lead.
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “avriette” and “xavi talleda” at Flickr)