A late contribution to the Queer Film Blogathon hosted by Garbo Laughs.
Title: Water Lilies
Director: Céline Sciamma
Staring: Pauline Acquart, Louise Blachère, Adele Haenel, Warren Jacquin
Plot: Three young girls on a synchronised swimming team, are forced to deal with awakening sexuality and the pressure of virginity.
Review: It has been said that the earliest years of our lives, especially our teenage years are amongst the hardest and it’s this entry point into adulthood which Director Sciamma has chosen as her point of interest for her debut film.
The three young female leads at the centre of this film are each wildly different from the other with the main focus falling onto Marie (Acquart) who is both quiet and almost expressionless throughout, while also harbouring a secret love for the beautiful head of the swim team Floraine (Haenel) whom is almost Marie’s opposite as she projects an air of confidence, while fuelling rumours of her sexual experience in order to maintain her popularity. Marie’s sole support in this situation comes from her friend Anne (Blachère), who despite being the heavier girl on the team, doesn’t seemingly allow it to affect her while also being prone to impulsive behaviour, while obsessing over François (Jacquin) a member of the boys water volleyball team.
For most of the film, we follow Marie whose obsession with Floraine leads to an unusual friendship of sorts with Floraine relying on Marie for favors, which more often than not take the form of an alibi for Floraine's various liaisons with assorted guys, yet as she later reveals to Marie, these are purely non sexual meet ups due to her fear of bleeding via penetration and that her she only fuels her own sluttish reputation solely to maintain her position as the most wanted girl at school. Still despite being entrusted with such a powerful secret, Marie maintains a questionable level of obedience to Floraine’s various whims, which often see her sitting around car parks or outside clubs waiting for Floraine, but never once feeling the urge to revel Floraine’s secret to anyone, even though Floraine never seemingly shows the slightest sign of wanting to return Marie’s feelings for her.
As a result of Marie’s friendship with Floraine, her relationship with Anne soon begins to flounder, as Marie finds herself becoming increasingly frustrated with her impulsive friend, even though she is the sole person in which she is able to confide about her feelings for Floraine. Still despite her young age, there is never any questioning of these feelings, while Marie never identifies herself as being either straight or gay, with Sciamma focusing more on these blossoming feelings than trying to attach any form of label to her characters. Still sex on a whole is never portrayed as anything resembling enjoyable or sensual, but more a political tool to announce status amongst your peers, while Anne is left repulsed after loosing her virginity in a casual lay with Floraine’s boyfriend, who has long since grown bored of being regularly rejected and seeks out Anna for instant gratification, not that she particularly seems to mind, especially when she can use it as a power play against Floraine’s control over Marie. Meanwhile despite her quest to be with Floraine seemingly being on the path that Marie wants with Sciamma teasing out their relationship with a number of almost moments, Marie is ultimately reduced to becoming the tool of Floraine’s deflowering, in a loveless event which ultimately pushes them further apart than bringing them closer together.
Shot from solely the girls’ perspective with no focus being given to subplots outside the three girls, the film is also almost devoid of any adult characters, with the few who do appear often being authority figures such as the coach of the swim team who chastises girls for not shaving under their arms or the pervert male coaches. Still Sciamma shoots the film with a thoughtful pace and despite running to a brisk 85 minutes it still feels a lot longer because of this, especially as Sciamma waits until the final quarter to unleash a flood of emotions upon the audience, who have been able to stick with the teasingly drawn out relationships between the main characters, while keeping the cinematography simple throughout as she chooses instead to focus on her characters, rather than aiming for any kind of visual flair and instead shoots the film with an indie rawness. Infact the sole flashy shot we do get is a prolonged underwater shot of the girls performing their routine, no doubt believing the drama of the story should be enough to hold the audiences attention without having to resort to fancy camera tricks to keep their attention.
While a spot on in capturing the essence of teen angst, the film admittedly is not going to be for everyone, especially with the girl being portrayed as almost miniature adults, rather than the usual smart assed and talkative creations popular with American cinema or the expletive heavy and over sexed teens, currently being overused as the template in British cinema. Still even with such a thoughtful style it still remains a highly watchable film.