Celine Sciamma’s Water Lilies (Naissance des Pieuvres) is a film about teens that are beginning to discover who they are, that actually stars teens (not mid-twenty year olds playing teens) and does not exploit that fact in any form. This film immediately brought to mind 2001’s Lost and Delirious because of Marie’s (Pauline Acquart) affection for Floriane (Adele Haenel), a female varsity synchronized swim team captain. From the first scene in Water Lilies, you are shown that synchronized swimming is not an underutilized plot point, its part of the film and the characters’ lives. The viewer is privy to numerous training sequences and synchronized performances in the water. If you’ve never given synchronized swimming much respect as a serious sport, you might after seeing the amount of coordination, timing and athleticism necessary to be on a synchronized swim team.
Marie is already an admirer of the sport and of its captain. You see from the start of the film that she has a crush on Floriane and that Floriane is oblivious to Marie’s existence and her feelings for her. At least initially that is the case. Wanting to be near Floriane, Marie tries out for the swim team and the two eventually meet. They become friends by default: All the other girls on the swim team believe that Floriane is a slut, a perception Floriane does nothing to dispel and actually fosters. She seems to like having the reputation of having slept with multiple male partners. Why she would desire such a reputation is never explained. Maybe Floriane likes the notoriety, the attention from the opposite sex that comes with the moniker; after all, some believe any publicity is good publicity. This lewd publicity has afforded Floriane the attention of a boy she likes, Francois (Warren Jacquin), who wants to have sex with her. Floriane knows he wants to have sex with her and most-likely used her reputation to acquire him. That is also how she is keeping him: they haven’t had sex yet, probably just “everything but,” however, if Francois just hangs in there, he believes Floriane will eventually consent.
Their sexual liaisons and the relationship that breaded them are what strength the bond between Marie and Floriane. Marie becomes Floriane confidant, her only friend. It is because of this bond and the necessity to live up to her reputation that motivates Floriane and Marie to share something in the third act that is quite special and it is not what you think or expect. It reminded me of a particular event that transpires in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers. Though this scene in Water Lilies is of note, it is not the most memorable in the film. That title belongs to an occurrence fantasized about, dreamed about by the main character in this film that is finally realized. Many if not all people have been in this situation at some point in their life, whether it was relationship, family or work-related. This moment happens for Marie and with a little encouragement; she does not flinch or let it pass her by. She grabs the bat, steps right up to the plate and swings. It is the result of this stroke that will leave some scratching their heads in question, annoyance and frustration but none more so than Marie.
Water Lilies (Naissance des Pieuvres), whose original French title translates as Birth of Octopuses, is a film that stirs the elements of true friendship, complicated relationships, infatuation, puberty, first loves and first times in a pool surrounded by the marble of high school pool sports. The performances by the three female leads are good, the third lead being Anne (Louise Blachere), Marie’s best friend before and during her crush on Floriane, and realistic, though not as well-rounded as those found in Thirteen. You very clearly see what Marie and Floriane are feeling or thinking by their facial expressions, hand movements and their posture in certain key scenes. Water Lilies is a coming-of-age film, sensual (for the stories progression, nothing inappropriate or for shock value), romantic and at times, non-sensical, the pedigree of many adolescent relationships.