In theory, Gilles Lellouche’s sophomore film Sink Or Swim would appear to be yet another zany screwball comedy—French star (and sometime Bond villain) Matthieu Almaric plays an unemployed man who joins an amateur synchronized swimming team to break the boredom. In practice, though, it is a surprisingly thoughtful enterprise, melancholy and even rather moving in places, as if those Belgian masters of social realism the Dardenne brothers had been handed the reins of Dodgeball instead of Rawson Marshall Thurber.

Lellouche, who moves effortlessly between comedy and drama, came by the Deadline’s Cannes Studio to explain his reasoning. The story, he said, was inspired the political climate in France, which has been somewhat volatile lately. “I can feel, in France, something a little bit depressive in the mood of the people,” he explained. “Like, eight years ago there was no vision for the future, no hope. I was really upset, too, about [hearing] guys saying things like, ‘If, at 50, you don’t have a Rolex, you missed your life.’ It’s ridiculous. So I thought about those [other] guys, who are a little bit depressed. Also, I’ve always [appreciated] guys who take part in amateur sports, like football on a Monday night. It’s cold outside, [but they] just [want] to play. I think it’s about more than sports. It’s about the people.”

As for the mix of comedy and realism—“It’s the way that I like to write things,” he said. “In France, Europe, you have [only two directions]. On one side, you have comedy, which is only comedy—like a cartoon—and on the other side you have the auteur movie, which is really depressing and black. Can’t we try to mix those things? That is the cinema I love. There’s a movie I love a lot, it’s called American Beauty. For me, it’s [better] to be dark and funny. To be sweet and deep.”

For more from Lellouche, see the video above.