61: WATER LILIES
DIR: Celine Sciamma
There is something about the way that Europe does films about teenagers, perhaps it's the lack of that quintessentially American optimism, but Europe's teen movies seem to be gritter, more downbeat, and for my money more reflective of what being a teenager tends to be like. Celine Sciamma's debut is a good example, it's a low key story about 14 year old Marie (Pauline Acquart) and her crush on Floriane (Adele Haenel), the star of the local synchronised swimming team. It's a film about unrequited feelings, and about the confusion and pain they provoke.
Sciamma's screenplay is smartly written; sensitive and realistic, and unafraid to deal with the shallowness and petty cruelties of which teenagers are capable, especially in the way Marie shuts out her awkward friend Anne (Louise Blachere) - whose own crush on Floriane's sometime boyfriend complicates the relationships further. The centre of the film is the relationship between Floriane and Marie, and the clear imbalance in it. It's obvious that Floriane knows how Marie feels about her, perhaps to a greater degree than Marie does, and she uses it to her perceived advantage. In one very difficult scene Floriane asks a very intimate favor of Marie, so that she can have sex with her boyfriend without him knowing that it is her first time. On another occasion, in one of the film's best scenes, the girls go to a club and Floriane drags Marie on to the dancefloor, dancing close, drawing her in, almost kissing her, before pulling away in a palpably painful moment.
The fact that Marie's crush is on another girl is really neither here nor there, the film isn't about titillating you with lesbians, it's about the dynamics of this relationship and Marie's first painful experience of being, or thinking that she's, in love and those things are not about gender. If this were an American film I suspect it would have ended with Floriane seeing the error of her ways, going to find Marie, declaring her love and kissing her in the middle of some dancefloor. Water Lilies doesn't do that, it's more consistent and more true than that, and the ending Sciamma actually finds is perfect, if more ambiguous.
Celine Sciamma directs sensitively, and draws performances of astonishing naturalism from her young cast. Acquart is especially good, and it's a terrible shame that she's done little since (a couple of shorts, a music video and just one feature). The visuals have a similar tone to Andrea Arnold's, in that they vacillate between a kitchen sink approach and a more designed and dreamlike feel (see the clips below to get a better sense of that). This is a distinctive and promising debut, and it will be interesting to see whether Sciamma can keep the quality up with her next film, which is likely to premiere at Cannes.
[No subs, sorry]
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