Dive: Rituals In Water


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Dive: Rituals In Water
"The sight of a four month old child standing upright on Snorri's hand, raised up above the water, will simultaneously awe and terrify many parents." | Photo: Courtesy of Doc/Fest

Almost all animals, if thrown into water, will swim instinctively. Humans are among the very few who, if untrained, will drown, but there's an exception to that. When we're very young - usually no more than six months old - we too will instinctively swim, and if we learn at that stage (ideally after three months, when we have enough immunity to fend off most infections found in relatively clean water), we'll never develop the fear that happens otherwise. Nevertheless, there are relatively few cultures where taking children swimming at this age is common practice. Iceland's was not one of them - until Snorri Magnússon came along and changed everything.

Elín Hansdóttir, Anna Rún Tryggvadóttir and Hanna Björk Valsdóttir's documentary brings viewers down into the water where Snorri's lessons take place, observes his techniques and also reveals a bit about the man himself, meeting his twin brother Viktor and his twin daughters, both of whom he raised as water babies. If it seems odd that people living on an island don't know how to swim (even when it's only an island if you look at it from the water) then it's worth bearing in mind that the community was founded by seafarers, who often choose not to learn because they feel that, should they fall overboard, a quick death will be better than a slow one. “Icelanders in general didn’t know how to swim,” says Snorri, reflecting on the lingering memory of an incident in 1939 in which four men drowned. He wanted to change that, and when people saw the results he was getting they were keen for their infants to take part too.

The sight of a four-month-old child standing upright on Snorri's hand, raised up above the water, will simultaneously awe and terrify many parents. Common wisdom holds that infants can't do this until around eight months, or even later, but Snorri has been making it happen for 30 years and there don't seem to be any ill effects. Swimming exercises every muscle in the body whilst the water provides support, so it's an ideal way to build up a young body. Snorri keeps classes fun, giving time to each baby in turn and keeping them active only for as long as they're enjoying it, then passing them back to their parents, from whose arms they eagerly watch what their peers are doing. He helps them to develop the different movements they need to swim more effectively and to push off from the side. Discovering their own power is plainly delightful for them, and the use of rituals and songs helps them to laugh as they go.

Inevitably, some activities require quite a bit of courage from the children. One scene sees Snorri persuading a four-month-old who is sitting on the side to plunge into the water. We see the child's hesitation gradually overcome by a determination to take on the challenge. In other scenes, the infants are remarkably calm about their heads going underwater; their parents less so, but they too will gradually get the hang of it.

Snorri also teaches people with learning disorders and limited cognitive capacity. The film touches lightly on this; it too is important work but it's a harder sell to a general audience. The babies are naturally charming and a pleasure to watch, even if the film is a little too repetitive in places. It's Snorri himself who is the star however - one of those rare individuals whose great joy emerges from helping others, and who is so passionate and so practical about what he does that most viewers will quickly come to feel the same way. This is a must-see for expectant parents and those with young children or grandchildren yet to discover their own potential in the water.

Reviewed on: 27 Feb 2020
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Dive: Rituals In Water packshot
Portrait of Icelandic pioneer Snorri Magnusson, who has been patiently teaching babies to float and paddle for over 25 years.

Director: Elín Hansdóttir, Hanna Björk Valsdóttir, Anna Rún Tryggvadóttir

Year: 2019

Runtime: 73 minutes

Country: Iceland

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