Saturday, March 15, 2008

WATER LILIES/NAISSANCE DES PIEUVRES - sinister, breath-takingly honest coming-of-age movie

WATER LILIES is a delicate, schmaltzy title for a film that is uncompromising, sinister and breath-takingly honest. It has an 85 minute run-time but creates an atmosphere that is so oppressive and yet so mesmerising that it feels longer. This is a good thing. Indeed, debutante writer-director Céline Sciamma has created one of the best films I have seen in 2008.

The movie explores how we abase ourselves in search of sexual fulfilment. Our two protagnists are teenage girls living in contemporary suburban France. They aren't cool or self-assured but awkward and strange. Marie (Pauline Acquart) is introverted and mostly silent, so that when she does act and exhibit her strength, it's almost frightening. Anne (Louise Blachère) is unhappily ridiculous, self-conscious about her body, and yet willing to throw herself after love. Marie ingratiates herself into the world of glamourous Floriane (Adele Haenel). Marie's crush may or may not be reciprocated - but Floriane certainly languishes in their intimacy, taking their mutual obligations to an audacious extreme. But, while she teases Marie, Floriane's real mission is to lose her virginity so she can be the slut that everyone assumes she is, and satisfy her boyfriend François (Warren Jacquin), who is also the object of Anne's sexual desire.

The four lead actors do a tremendous job, although one has to gasp at what Sciamma asks her young cast to do. The sexual tension drips from the screen and while there are no easy resolutions, there is at least some groping toward self-awareness for the two outsiders by the end of the film. This is perfectly complemented by Crystel Fournier's superb photography. Her camera is a voyueur, sneaking into changing rooms, swimming pools and night-clubs along with Anne and Marie. It makes us feel uncomfortable but convinces us of the beauty and violence to be found in such commonplace activities.

WATER LILIES played Cannes, Toronto and London 2007. It was released in Belgium and France last year and is currently on release in the Netherlands and the UK. It will play the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival next month and opens in Norway on April 11th.

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