Review of “Water Lilies”


Allusions to Monet may provide a prettier picture, but consider that the

original French title of the film Water

is Naissance des Pieuvres

— which translates to "birth of the octopuses," those eight-armed

geniuses of aquatic camouflage that are genetically programmed to die after

they reproduce. Association with such a dark fate might explain the anxiety and

awkwardness that engulfs three French girls on the cusp of adult sexualities in

this new film by out lesbian director and screenwriter Céline Sciamma.

Water Lilies

delivers a vivid impression of Euro-teen angst set against the backdrop of

competitive synchronized swimming in the Paris

suburb of Cergy. My French friend who spent her childhood near this ville nouvelle built in the 1960s noted

Cergy’s weird but cool modern architecture and its greenery unfortunately

surrounded by too much concrete.

In other words, Cergy sounds like the ideal location for

Sciamma’s warm-weather tale of 15-year-olds overwhelmed by the prospect of

their biological destinies and the confusing novelty of their desires. Their

growing pains unfold in a world almost completely devoid of adult characters

(not to mention the riots that touched this Paris banlieue

in real life last year).

As a result of this teenage perspective, some might think of Water Lilies as My Summer of Love blended with Fat

, spiced with a dash of The

Virgin Suicides
. When people over 21 do appear in the film, they are

generally annoying authority figures, such as the female coach who subjects the

young swimmers’ armpits to shaving inspections, or the pervy male coaches who become

aroused around the girls.

Water Lilies opens

with orchestral music and shots of buff deltoids in the girls’ locker room at

the Piscine du Parvis, where skinny misfit Marie (Pauline Acquart) longs to be

part of the indoor synchronized swim team captained by the conventionally

gorgeous Floriane (Adèle Haenel). Outfitted in the universal baby dyke uniform

of Levi’s, old-school Nike basketball kicks, and a regrettably patterned polo

shirt, Marie stares at the choreographed swimmers, wrapped in their glittery

one-pieces, with the kind of single-minded attention that Adele Channing used

to lavish on Jenny Schecter.

Alas, Marie and her friend Anne (Louise Blachère), a budding

indie rocker of voluptuous proportions, inhabit the lower ranks of the teenage

totem pole (or its French equivalent) in Cergy. Their bodies reveal their

peripheral social positions and inadequate self-images: Plump Anne always waits

until she is alone in the locker room to change, and flat-chested Marie removes

her bra stealthily without taking off her shirt.

"I’m not normal," laments Marie to Anne near the

beginning of the film as she hoists boxes of powdered laundry detergent to

prime her twig-like biceps for the rigors of swimming. She even reveals that

one arm is longer than the other.

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