Koch Lorber // 2007 // 86 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // September 18th, 2008
A coming-of-age story like you've never seen before...
For those of you who enjoy slow-moving but sophisticated foreign dramas in which the characters barely use any words to convey a strong message, Celine Sciamma's directorial debut Water Lilies is an absolute must-see. Although it traveled the world and screened at Cannes and even Toronto, the film only received a short theatrical run in the United States, which obviously limited its exposure. Now it's finally out on DVD, and I urge you to dive into this calm but disturbing examination of a dramatic journey to adulthood.
Marie (Pauline Acquart), Anne (Louise Blachere), and Floriane (Adele Haenel) are three 15-year-old girls with quite different perceptions of what it takes for a girl to go through adolescence. Anne may be considered slightly overweight for her age and she's not feeling comfortable at all in her body, a major setback in her attempt to approach and talk to the good-looking Francois (Warren Jacquin). Her lack of self-confidence is not her only problem, though. The real disappointment is that Francois's eyes are locked on Floriane, the beautiful synchronized swimmer with the perfect body who knows how to use her looks to attract everybody's attention.
Then there's Marie, the one with the least developed physique of the three girls. Marie is very shy when she's in presence of others, and she's very confused by the emergence of her first sexual stimulations. Intrigued by the behavior and attitude of Floriane, Marie does everything to join her swimming team, a decision that will thrust her into an unknown world of insecurity in which she finds it nearly impossible to straighten out her feelings. Additionally, her spending so much time with Floriane creates extra tension with Anne, her best friend.
First and foremost, I hope my short description of the facts of this case did not scare you away. Then again, I have to admit that Water Lilies is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. Water Lilies strictly targets those who bring a lot of patience to either the theater or the living room and don't mind watching the complexities of life unfold in quiet scenes where words are scarce and images alone tell an intriguing story. That's probably how I would best describe this cinematic experience. It's a film that doesn't necessarily move you immediately after watching, but slowly starts to make sense after you've given the subject matter some serious thought.
But enough about that. What is Water Lilies really about? At its core, the film follows three young girls as they embark on the tricky path toward adulthood. It's quite a simple way to explain what goes on here, but that's exactly what it is. What makes the plot so unusual is the way Sciamma chooses to show audiences how the protagonists make that transition from a child to a more complex teenager. Most of their fears throughout this journey can be seen in their eyes and their postures alone. For instance, watching Marie trying to put on her swimsuit without taking her clothes off tells us viewers a lot about how uncomfortable she really is about her physique in the presence of other girls.
I certainly don't want to give away the plot here, but what I can say is that the nature of the relationship between these three characters is fascinating to observe. Marie discovers she's quickly developing unusual feelings for Floriane, but Floriane just keeps teasing her by warming up to Francois and spends the rest of her time provoking the other girls by acting like the swimming team's slut. Meanwhile, Anne is preoccupied with figuring out a way to talk to Francois, although she also sees her tight friendship with Marie slipping away because of Floriane's captivating power over everybody around her. Thanks to Sciamma's careful writing, watching the girls work out their tensions and try to understand these new, overwhelming feelings is an absorbing experience.
Backed by Crystel Fournier's excellent cinematography, Sciamma generates a whole bunch of nearly poetic scenes that serve as powerful metaphors for what it is the girls are currently experiencing. Setting most of the film inside or around an aquatic center gave her endless opportunities to come up with powerful scenes to help tell her story. Phenomenal also are the performances by our three protagonists. Although they really haven't had much onscreen experience, Louise Blachere, Adele Haenel, and Pauline Acquart all do a fantastic job. Without their realistic portrayals and abilities to command their characters, Water Lilies would only be half as engrossing as it really is. There's no doubt in my mind that they carry this film from the first minute to the last.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation on this disc is clean enough, and I really can't complain about the decent picture quality. The filmmakers' use of more natural lighting gives the film a darker tone, but the image remains sharp throughout. The quality of the audio transfer is not that important here because dialogue and music are limited, but what we do end up hearing sounds just fine.
Besides a theatrical trailer, the bonus material on the DVD includes several deleted scenes and a couple of casting segments. None of this is particularly interesting or informative though.
Water Lilies is not a film for everyone. However, if you have a thing or two for foreign indies and don't mind watching a relatively young cast in a movie with some explicit sexual content, this is definitely worth the investment. The film also marks the debut of what will certainly be a rich career for Sciamma. A powerful film indeed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scenes
* Casting Segments
* Official Site