Freibad (2022)

Freibad [literally: lido, public outdoor swimming pool]
Director: Doris Dörrie
Writer: Doris Dörrie, Madeleine Fricke, Karin Kaci
Cast: Andrea Sawatzki, Maria Happel, Nilam Farooq, Sabrina Amali, Julia Jendroßek, Ilknur Boyraz, Melodie Wakivuamina, Lisa Wagner, Nico Stank, Samuel Schneider
Seen on: 21.9.2022

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism, mostly against muslims, transmisia, fatmisia

As every year, Gabi (Maria Happel) and Eva (Andrea Sawatzki) spend practically their entire summer at Germany’s only public pool exclusively for women. They look at all changes with distrust. Lately, this has been the increased presence of muslim women. When Yasemin (Nilam Farooq), an ambitious sport swimmer, shows up in a Burkini, Eva in particular is outraged – haven’t they been fighting for women to be free, and now this? But Yasemin’s choice is also seen critically by her muslim family who rather stay clothed next to the pool. When an entire busload of Arab muslims in burkas show up, things become even more heated.

Honestly, I was worried that Freibad would end up the same kind of disaster as Womit haben wir das verdient? a few years ago, but I felt it to be my duty to support a film by female filmmakers that so obviously tackles feminist topics. So I went anyway – to be very pleasantly surprised. Freibad is a funny and critical look at all kinds of feminist discourse that I really enjoyed.

The film poster showing a pool  from above with many people floating in it.

Freibad is a comedy, so it definitely works with stereotypes and is sometimes maybe a little too quick. But I think that’s only fair, a trade-off that I thought they balanced well, always including enough subversion and humanization of characters to not simply replicate stereotypes. And there is a critical edge in all of it, especially white feminism. Gabi and Eva both see themselves as feminists, taking part in protests decades ago already. But they both harbor racist resentments that they’re not willing to confront (at first). Paula (Julia Jendroßek), too, who is actually there to flirt with Yasemin, has some racist issues – but in the opposite way: everything that Yasemin or other muslim women does is kind of cool to her. That Yasemin isn’t particularly happy with that kind of attention, isn’t too surprising. In fact, that was one of the film’s central pieces for me: Yasemin, and also one of the Arab women (Sabrina Amali, I forgot her character’s name), actually just want to be left in piece and do their thing, but the white people around them just won’t let them.

While racism against muslims is certainly the focus point of the film, they do find time to include other things as well: Paula is fat, and that is an issue at the pool as well. Kim (Nico Stank) who runs the food stand at the pool is a trans woman and her easy and unquestioned inclusion at the women-only pool (although she does have to deal with some transmisic remarks from police officers) was particularly nice at this time since so many feminists and their discourse are turning against trans people (and towards fascism). The Black life guard (Melodie Wakivuamina, here too, don’t remember the character’s name) speaking with a thick Swiss accent touches on other racist issues aside from Islammisia.

Gabi (Maria Happel) and Eva (Andra Sawatzki) lounging next to the pool, observing everything.

In short, it seems very obivous that Dörrie and her writers Fricke and Kaci (who, I gather, has Turkish-Armenian roots herself which is definitely a plus for this film) know feminist discussions and take them seriously. But at the same time, they see the comedic potential that is part of them (and any other kind of discourse). Because they understand the issues, they know which jokes to make and which would be harmful – and that shows in the film.

The cast is also absolutely fantastic, with Happel and Sawatzki making up the core of the film in a hilarious continuous back and forth. I think that even if you’re not that familiar with feminist thinking, you can definitely enjoy the cast and the shenanigans they get into. I certainly had fun with this film.

Yasemin (Nilam Farooq), wearing a burkini, and Paula (Julia Jendroßek), wearing a bikini, sitting next to the pool together.

Summarizing: good times.

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