Swimming in Sexuality
Before watching "Water Lilies" I knew this was a movie I was going to struggle with and not because it is French, that was the reason why I watched it in the first place. Nope I knew that this was a story of three 15 year old girls dealing with adolescence and as such I knew I was going to struggle to connect with this coming of age drama being neither a teenager nor female. And I did struggle because to be honest I don't think you can connect with this coming of age movie unless you have gone through the trials and tribulations of female adolescence. That doesn't stop me admiring the direction from CÃ©line Sciamma who not only wrote the story but made her debut as director with "Water Lilies". She exhibits a slow confidence in the nature of the story, allowing the image to speak the words rather than forcing the dialogue.
Anne (Louise BlachÃ¨re) is a young girl whose body has blossomed but her mind has yet to catch up, but still she yearns for her first experience with a boy, that being Francois (Warren Jacquin) a swimmer at the pool where she is part of a synchronized swimming team. The trouble is that whilst Francois has noticed that Anne is developed he is more interested in Floriane (AdÃ¨le Haenel), the captain of a synchronising team with a reputation for going all the way with boys. But Floriane, whose reputation is not all that it seems, also has another admirer in Anne's tomboy friend Marie (Pauline Acquart) who becomes obsessed with her and does her best to fit into Floriane's life.
Now as I said, I knew I was going to struggle with connecting to the trio of girls in "Water Lilies" and I did. But at the same time I was able to understand their characters and in a big way that is what "Water Lilies" is about, understanding that whilst Anne has a developed body her mind hasn't caught it up and still acts a little childish, unable to control her emotions. At the same time we have Marie who finds herself dealing with having feelings for a girl rather than a boy and not full understanding how to deal with them. Plus there is Floriane who whilst confident with boys and having a reputation for being a slut in truth is struggling with her own sexuality as much as anyone else. These are recognizable characters which even if you can't connect to what they are going through you can still recognize.
But the thing about "Water Lilies" is that debut director CÃ©line Sciamma does a brilliant job of telling this coming of age story in such a way that so much is said by the way characters act rather than they what they actually say. When we see Anne waiting in the locker room totally naked for Francois to hopefully walk in you can work out what she is hoping but we don't need the words to tell us. It is the same with Marie and the frustration she feels being around Floriane because one minute they are close to the point of intimate and then the next Floriane is with a boy. It is great story telling from a director who obviously understands that more can be said through observation than through words alone.
Now having said that I do have one criticism of sorts and that is "Water Lilies" is slow going. The entire first half drags as it sets up the characters and their individual situations and for me personally there are too many padding scenes around the swimming pool as we watch synchronized swimming. Although in truth I would prefer a slow movie rather than one which rushes things and does the storyline a disservice.
What this all boils down to is that "Water Lilies" with its story of female adolescence appears to be a movie very much for those who can connect with the traumatic experience. But even if you struggle to connect Sciamma's direction and writing will impress delivering a beautiful movie which only problem is really that it is too slow.