"We need this film now more than ever"

We spoke to The Shiny Shrimps director about his champion LGBT+ sports comedy drama

10th September 2019

British film Pride, which came out in 2014, is often held up as the best LGBT+ film of recent years — but the release of French comedy-drama The Shiny Shrimps might provide a strong contender to the title.

Co-directed by Cédric Le Gallo and Maxime Govare, it is a fun-filled flick which explores the lives of an all-gay water polo team as they train and party their way towards competing in The Gay Games. Though the film is fictional, it is largely inspired by the real team of the same name, which Le Gallo is a member.

The story begins with ageing vice-world swimming champion Matthias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob) being forced to coach The Shiny Shrimps (The Pailletées Shrimp), after making a homophobic remark on live TV. At first, Matthias seems irritated by the Shrimps’ work ethic and flamboyancy, but he slowly begins to see the world from their perspective. Though the plot is somewhat predictable, there are elements that are new and refreshing.

Le Gallo says working with Govare, a straight ally, helped him create a film that’s accessible to a wide variety of people. He tells The Overtake: “When we wrote together I would tell him something that I’d like to put into the movie, and sometimes he did not understand, which helped me. It was really important for me not to betray the LGBT+ community but also for the general audience to not feel excluded.”

Le Gallo’s debut is challenging for both directors and cast. Sport is a genre that’s always tricky to film, with fast cuts and action sequences that need to be repeated consistently in filming, though The Shiny Shrimps goes a step further, filming above and below water.

The director says the difficulty in filming wasn’t even on his mind. “For your first movie, you have to talk about something you know very well. Something very personal. The real Shiny Shrimps are such a big part of my everyday life. They are such an inspiration because they are such flamboyant gay-positive heroes.”

The film is based on a real team of the same name 📷 Universal Pictures International

A common experience for people from the LGBT+ community is choosing their family, as while some people are blessed with loving and supportive biological families who accept them completely as they are, for many this is not the case. The Shiny Shrimps are certainly an example of finding one’s own chosen family and how powerful this bond can be.

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The team was founded by Jean (Alban Lenoir), who acts in a fatherly way towards the others and holds a secret from them with the best intentions. Alex (David Baiot) is Jean’s ex-boyfriend. There is a clear tension between the two of them but this does not get in the way of the team. Xavier (Geoffrey Couet) is an unapologetic party animal, while Damien (Romain Lancry) is another younger member who initially appears that way too but is revealed to have had a troubled past. Vincent (Felix Martinez) is a newcomer to the group and, having recently come out, offers the audience a lens into the life-changing effect of embracing your truth.

Joel (Roland Menou), the eldest of the group, is far more militant in his approach and often clashes with the attitudes of the younger members. When Fred (Romain Brau) first shows up, it is soon made clear that Joel has a problem with her transitioning and is caught off guard. This portrays tensions that can exist within inclusive communities and also between generations.

I think Fred breaks all the boxes and all the walls. She is an important transgender character

The film later wraps up this conflict in a nuanced way. It’s commendable the writers included this, as not only does it show Fred’s unwavering sense of self, it shows raw and flawed LGBT+ characters. It also serves as an example as to how to have open conversations about differences in perspectives in a sensitive way: it is important to figure out why people say the hurtful things they do and a lot can be learnt from sitting down and talking to someone with opposing views to your own.

The Shiny Shrimps successfully navigates the differences of experience and views among the LGBT+ community 📷 Universal Pictures International

Romain talks about why Fred is such a vital character: “Fred is a fighter, she’s also the feminine mummy figure of the whole team. I think people probably get touched by her because she fights to get to where she is now and doesn’t listen to anybody. She goes where she wants to go. It touches a lot of people today because we live in a world where everybody goes into a little box. You’re like this, you’re like that. I think Fred breaks all the boxes and all the walls. She is an important transgender character.”

Fred is an important progression in trans representation in film. Her existence within the story is not to portray suffering, rather she is a celebration of owning oneself. I hope we get to see more characters like her.

You still hear a lot of horrible stories and I’m sure it’s the same in England. But we didn’t want it to go into the sad and dark discussion

For an LGBT+ film as a whole, it is comforting and comical and whilst there are some more serious scenes it is far more about the pride than the darkness. Romain touches on this: “Today, being gay is still a problem but we are growing and we are getting there.

“You still hear a lot of horrible stories and I’m sure it’s the same in England. But we didn’t want it to go into the sad and dark discussion, it’s not about death or violence, it is still about aggression and narrow-minded people who are talking about things because they are scared about the situation. It’s a celebration, we talk about parties and communities, the love we have for our friends and travel etcetera. That makes the film special for me.”

One guy came up to me to say thank you for your movie because now, I can tell my parents ‘if you want to know what my life looks like, just go watch this movie and you will know’

The Shiny Shrimps has the potential to touch the lives of the entire audience no matter their background and could pose as a bridge towards conversations in the real world between people inside and outside of the community.

Nicolas Gob plays Matthias Le Goff, an ageing homophobic swimming champion  📷 Universal Pictures International

Le Gallo mentions some of the positive feedback he’s had. “One guy came up to me to say thank you for your movie because now, I can tell my parents, if you want to know what my life looks like, just go watch this movie and you will know.”

Yes, this film follows nine gay characters, but more than that, it is a meticulously filmed comedy-drama about nine heroes living their multi-dimensional truths and being proud athletes showing themselves to the world. It shows how family is what you make of it. How someone who is close-minded and puts up walls just needs a little help to open up their minds to be able to embrace the differences of others. In a world focused on division and group mentality, we need this film now more than ever.

10th September 2019