Jess McCabe // 17 February 2008
Water Lilies is a French coming-of-age and coming out movie due to be released in the UK in a few weeks. I just saw a screener, and have to recommend that everyone goes to see it.
The film is set in an unremarkable suburb of Paris, and follows the interaction between three teenage girls – Marie, the main character in the film, falls painfully in love with Floriane, after seeing her compete in a synchronised swimming tournament. Then there is Marie’s friend Anne, who is in love with Floriane’s boyfriend – at one point she buries her bra in his backyard, in an attempt, we presume, to cast a sort of love spell.
So far, so teen movie (the director actually says in the press notes that “they are three characters that could have been in American Pie”). But what is really compelling about this film is the incredibly hard and honest look it takes at teenage sexuality.
For those put off by the mere mention of synchronised swimming, first-time director Céline Sciamma explains:
It’s a 100% female sport, so it generates a position on femininity. It is a particularly difficult and athletic sport. The girls train 15 hours a week.. They have to have exceptional physical qualities. And it’s all for nearly nothing, because there is no possibility of making a career of it. It’s a sport that demands a lot of effort that has to be hidden. The girls have to make it look easy and smiling is compulsory. That’s what interested me. Synchronised swimmers are little soldiers made up like dolls.
Sciamma also does some interesting things with perspective – for example, there are purposefully no parents in the film, to force all the audience members to really relate to the girls. The characters of teenage boys are also not given speaking parts, so the perspective of the film is entirely that of the girls’ – a real shift from mainstream movie fare:
There is no male perspective or man’s vision in this film. Water Lilies does not take any line on what boys are like. They are side B for another film. They are not around. They don’t speak.