What is Anticipated is Soon Over

Will Rowan reviews Last Swim, the debut from UK-based director Sasha Nathwani at Berlinale Film Festival 2024

(Image: Deba Hekmat Last Swim by Sasha Nathwani GBR 2024, Generation)

Last Swim, which opened the Generation strand at this year’s Berlinale, is a confident debut feature from UK-based director Sasha Nathwani. 

Set in the old, stuffy rooms of UCL, we meet Londoner Ziba, a determined A-level student. She is about to excel in an interview that will secure her place to study astrophysics, but a shadow looms over her bright future: Ziba is seriously ill, forcing her to live in the immediacy of the present at a time when the only topic is the future.

Last Swim invites us to journey with her as she plans a 24-hour post-results day adventure for herself and her friends.

Deba Hakmat is impressive as Ziba, pulling off a finely adjusted internal turmoil, and there’s plenty of chemistry with potential love interest Malcolm, played by Denzel Baidoo. However, its attempts to tug at the heartstrings occasionally feel overwrought, bordering on forceful. 

Over the course of the day, we are given a whistle-stop tour of London as Ziba ticks off a list ranging from the best sandwich in the world to watching a meteor shower. It is through this that we’re introduced to Ziba’s circle of friends and the sheer stakes of being young. Awe and excitement is tinged with a nostalgia for the present. Last Swim understands that what is anticipated is soon over. 

It is an authentic portrayal of youth –  the shrugs, idiosyncratic phrases, and inherent awkwardness amongst Ziba’s friends are all too familiar. However, the unconvincing chemistry between the rest of the ensemble cast left me cold. There is a fine line between portraying teenage awkwardness and just being awkward.

Last Swim has a freewheeling style that captures both the freedom and the looming uncertainty of life beyond school. It is mostly successful but, as with most planned days, often falls short of expectations.