Told exclusively from the perspective of teenage girls, Water Lilies sees female adolescence as an uncomfortable, embarrassing phase full of painful self-consciousness and frustrated desire. In a featureless suburbia devoid of any parental figures, Marie (Pauline Acquart) becomes entranced by her high school’s synchronized swimming team and, in particular, its boy-magnet captain Floriane (Adèle Haenel). Though small and shy, Marie ingratiates herself with Floriane, gaining both access to the squad’s practices and the trust of the aquatic athlete, who is soon using the younger Marie as her alibi for—and escort to—sexual rendezvous with boys. Meanwhile, their budding friendship throws a wrench into that of Marie and Anne (Louise Blachère), a heavy, gawky girl whose issues with her body impede attempts to woo hunky pool attendant François (Warren Jacquin). Director Céline Sciamma’s debut can lay the sensual lyricism on a bit too thick, but her depiction of girls struggling to adjust to and survive teendom is suitably raw, avoiding dewy-eyed visions of first love and social conflict for a bruised, tender portrait of growing up as a confusing, traumatic period of constant readjustment. Losing one’s virginity is presented as a thorny, harrowing event—metaphorically visualized by the sight of swimmers’ lower halves kicking about underwater—and Marie’s abandonment of loyal but uncool Anne for chilly but beautiful Floriane captures the selfish callousness that kids are capable of when social standing and self-esteem are at stake. While Anne pursues the heterosexual attention of François, Marie and Floriane’s bond becomes laced with aching homoeroticism, and Water Lilies neither titillates nor condescends in trying to dramatize the way that awe-struck respect (on Marie’s part) and chilly, needy egotism (on Floriane’s) can blur the line between admiration and amorous longing. Back and forth these dynamics shift, the director charting her story’s emotional curlicues with poise and polish, as well as eliciting superb performances from her three leads—and especially the dangerously alluring Haenel—that burn with skinned-knee authenticity.
- Koch Lorber Films
- 85 min
- Céline Sciamma
- Céline Sciamma
- Pauline Acquart, Louise Blachère, Adèle Haenel, Warren Jacquin
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