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BERLINALE 2024 Generation

Sasha Nathwani • Director of Last Swim

“We wanted to show the energy of the summer”

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- BERLINALE 2024: The sun is high, but the shadows are growing longer in this film swinging between moments of laughter and bouts of melancholy

Sasha Nathwani • Director of Last Swim

In Sasha Nathwani’s Last Swim [+see also:
film review
interview: Sasha Nathwani
film profile
]
, screening in Generation 14plus at the Berlinale, Ziba (Deba Hekmat) is aiming high – she is ambitious and hard-working. She is also harbouring a secret that she doesn’t want to share with her laid-back friends. At least not right now, as they drive around London on a hot summer’s day, listening to music, flirting and looking to the sky.

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Cineuropa: Your film feels so melancholic. You talk about young people, but the feeling of regret and fleeting time is very adult-like.
Sasha Nathwani: We had a cast-and-crew screening a while ago, and we realised the film swings between moments of laughter, and bouts of sadness and melancholy. It wasn’t a conscious choice, but it’s about someone going through a difficult time and being in the company of her friends, who don’t explicitly know what’s going on yet can maybe sense something. Whenever you are with your friends, you forget what’s going on at home or with your health. Still, when Ziba is on her own, some of this melancholy comes back.

This film was made, essentially, by a group of millennial filmmakers. When we looked back at some of our best memories from our late teens, you would go to bed at 3 am and try to piece together your day. You didn’t even remember how you got from A to B, because you went to meet one friend and then ran into another. There is a bit of nostalgia, but it’s about Gen Z: it’s a contemporary story about characters today.

Were you thinking about road movies to nowhere, like American Graffiti? Where people just move around for the sake of it, without one, concrete goal?
It all goes back to our experiences of growing up in London. There comes a time when your friends start to drive or someone has access to their parents’ car. If you grow up in the suburbs, like I did, you jump into it and it’s like a field trip, essentially. We were pitching this film as a second coming-of-age story. It’s an exploration of youth, but there is a degree of finality to it. Ziba is ticking items off her teenage bucket list. She is someone who sits at the front of the classroom, but over the course of the day, she starts moving all the way to the back – closer to the naughty characters, to the kids who do questionable things. It’s about someone trying to reclaim their youth, rather than play it safe, like she used to.

She also has an interesting relationship with her Iranian roots: she mocks her mother’s accent but corrects a teacher when he mispronounces her name.
I am a British-Asian filmmaker myself: my mum is from Iran, and my dad is Indian. I wanted to tap into my own experience. Londoners have so many different identities; it’s such a diverse city, and you wear different hats depending on who you are with. Ziba is smart – when she is coming into that interview, she knows it’s probably a very white, male-dominated course. She wants to celebrate the fact that she’s different.

She’s a grounded character, but she is also looking to the sky, looking for something bigger. Did you want to add a more metaphysical layer to this story?
You can look at it more broadly as a tale about the youth of today or have more philosophical conversations about it, because she has this charming observational wisdom. Just before they go swimming, she says that if the sun were to die, they wouldn’t know about it for eight minutes. They talk about what they would do. That’s what this whole day is about: it symbolises her eight minutes. This is her opportunity to do everything she wanted to do. She realises you can’t control everything, and there is beauty in letting go. For me, that’s probably the final conclusion.

Was music always supposed to be so present? It’s with them all the time, and it just adds to that overwhelming heat.
So many of us are music-video filmmakers, and we wanted to bring some of that into the film. Also, on a hot summer’s day in London, you hear a certain kind of electronic music just about everywhere. These are very British musicians who collectively represent this sound of London. Our composer, Federico Albanese, was someone I’d wanted to work with for a very long time. He composed a series of themes I would then play on our set. It was helpful: everyone understood the pacing and emotional significance of the scene.

As British filmmakers, we get frustrated with how British films can look. They can be so monochromatic. We wanted to show the colour of London. It has this drab reputation when it comes to the weather, but when the sun is out, people are out in the streets. We wanted all these things to be visually evident and show the energy of the summer. 

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