Review of “Water Lilies”

Their eagerness to transcend their marginal status makes
Marie and Anne, like all outsiders, especially vulnerable to the manipulations
(conscious or otherwise) of the popular kids. This brute observation about
human nature floats the plot of Water
Lilies
, which paddles slowly before unleashing in a flood in the final quarter
of the 85-minute film.

In an entanglement worthy of the celebrated problem-solving
skills of an octopus, Anne lusts after the alpha male swimmer, an Abercrombie
zombie named François (Warren Jacquin), who wants to sleep with Floriane. But
Floriane is not certain whether she’s ready to have sex with a boy.

Meanwhile, Marie grows deeply infatuated with Floriane, even
if she does not fully understand the implications of her same-sex attraction.
But how else to explain her pawing through the trash to read torn bits of
letters and gnaw on the fruit cores that Floriane has discarded?

Cleverly, Sciamma leaves open the question of whether sulky
Marie is on the verge of an overtly lesbian epiphany or is simply starstruck by
Floriane, a girl so beautiful that she manages to look hot in a nose clip.

What does emerge with more clarity than municipal pool water
is the way that Floriane uses Marie to help her navigate a bumpy entrance onto
the road of adult heterosexuality. Any woman who’s ever suffered a futile crush
on a straight girl will identify with the abuse in which Marie is complicit.

Floriane likes to keep Marie by her side, given that her
devoted admirer serves as an alibi for her late afternoon meetings with François,
or as a wingwoman to rescue her in the event of unwelcome male attention. Marie
goes along with it, until a final request pushes their intense, unclassifiable
connection to the brink.

Some powerful scenes ensue that teach Anne and Marie the enduring worth of
their friendship, as opposed to the fleeting value of attractions, same-sex or
otherwise. "We mustn’t split up, Marie," Anne says toward the film’s
conclusion. "I do daft things by myself."

Sciamma, 27, makes her feature debut with Water Lilies, a script she wrote as her
graduation project at La Fémis, the prestigious French state film school. Her
work arrives in the U.S. after being an official selection at the 2007 Cannes
Film Festival, winning the youth award at the 2007 Cabourg Romantic Film
Festival, and tying for the 2007 Prix Louis Delluc for Best First Film. Viewers
might want to add an accolade for best underwater shots of well-toned thighs in
vigorous, synchronous motion.

Newcomers Blachère’s and Haenel’s performances were both
nominated for the 2008 César Award for Most Promising Actress. And Acquart
showcases the potential for subtleties beyond the brooding confines of her role
as Marie (but at least a quasi-lesbian character existed for her to play).

Making their solid debut plunges with Water
Lilies
, all four women are welcome additions to the cinematic landscape.

Water Lilies is currently screening in the U.K. and is in limited release in the U.S.

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