Laura CliffordGirls’ synchronized swimming is the backdrop in this coming of age film about three 15-year girls in a Parisian suburb. Tomboy Marie (Pauline Acquart) is infatuated with fille fatale Floriane (Adele Haenel). Floriane has a reputation as a slut but, really, just wants love. Marie’s longtime friend Anne (Louise Blachere) is ready for love but not, yet, for sex. All three will face the changes that they are about to experience in their lives in “Water Lilies.”
Somehow, the French in this case, newcomer helmer (and writer) Celine Sciamma can take budding love, both physical and emotional, between two young women, and not have it readily dubbed a “lesbian” film. Water Lilies” is an honest portrayal of love and its mysteries for the odd triangle of Anne-Marie-Floriane, with Marie at its apex. The backdrop of synchronized swim competitions is an allegory to the beauty and hard work of growing up. The scenes of the swimmers, early on, gives way to the relational highs and lows experienced by the three young women.
Frosh helmer Sciamma does a solid job with her coming of age drama. Her trio of characters have their personal motivations as they explore the new life that growing up brings to each. Sexual curiosity and experimentation are closely examined by each player sometimes to the good, sometimes to the not so good. The young actresses playing the 15-year olds give convincing characterizations but their acting skills need honing..
I have to admit, once the camera pulls away from the synchronized swimming, my interest wandered a bit. The striking visuals above and below the waterline are fascinating to watch and I was disappointed that they were not given more time. “Water Lilies” is a decent movie about growing up but won’t find a teen audience in the US. I give it a C+.
Debuting writer/director Céline Sciamma coaxes terrific performances out of her amateur actresses, two of whom (Blachère and Haenel) went on to Cesar nominations for 'most promising young actress' in a coming of age tale that is at once raw and beautiful. In a Parisian suburb, stick thin tomboy Marie (Pauline Acquart) supports chubby buddy Anne (Louise Blachère) when Anne performs as a junior team member of a water ballet, but it is the advanced team's captain, Floriane (Adèle Haenel), who captivates Marie's eye. Without telling Anne, Marie insinuates herself into Floriane's life, first by professing a desire to learn synchronized swimming, then by doing favors. The glamorous Floriane is disliked by other girls, who believe she is a slut, an image Floriane does nothing to dispel, but Marie wants more from Floriane than friendship as she has a serious girl crush. Once Marie has spent time with Floriane, Anne's company takes her to the childish side of fourteen. After watching Anne shoplift a necklace, then demand a Happy Meal at a MacDonald's, Marie informs her that she has become a burden.
And so three distinct characters emerge. Anne, whose fat repels the boys (she's entranced by François, who, of course, is entranced by Floriane), but makes her an easy target. Anne's more forthright than the other two, going after what she wants, making (literally) earthy gestures in defiance of what she does not. Marie is internal and thoughtful (her observation on ceilings is a memorable one), dark and fleeting, ready to experiment but never getting her own terms. Floriane is the beautiful girl, running towards, then away from, her own objectified image. These three teenagers convey it all - narcissism and self consciousness, cruelty and kindness, shyness and seduction.
Sciamma uses water imagery throughout, most obviously as the medium to support her lilies, all beauty above water, furious churning beneath. Camera work accentuates themes and characterizations, notably for the film's marvelous ending. Here's a new filmmaker who ventures into Breillat territory without Breillat's inclination for brutal provocation.
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