Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Naissance des Pieuvres (Water Lilies) (2007, Céline Sciamma)

For each moment of pure, honest resonance in Céline Sciamma's Water Lilies, we have to swallow an awful lot of claptrap. It's an odd coming-of-age indie melodrama (emphasis on coming) that over-sexualizes the adolescent female perspective. Doubly strange is that it's written and directed by a woman, about females and remains highly voyeristic: a phallocentric lesbian (kinda?) film that Laura Mulvey would have some serious issues with.

The film is not so much about synchronized swimmers Anne (Louise Blachère, the best part of the film) and Floriane (Adèle Haenel) as it is about slower-developing wallflower Marie (Pauline Acquart) who, we gather, derives some sort of voyeuristic pleasure from espying Floriane. She watches their meets, their practices, and dares not enter their locker room in what I could appreciate as maturely handled conflictedness if the other two legs of the triangle weren't so mismanaged and clichéd.

Anne, we assume, is Marie's best friend by proxy, although they seem to share no interests, real knowledge of one another, or even common decency. You see, Anne is overweight and immature which somehow paints an innocent enough canvas for the filmmakers to unfairly over-sexualize her in unbelievable narrative circumstances. Anne doesn't understand her early propulsion into womanhood (going so far as to bury her bra in the garden) and, we gather, enjoys being the rare object of male gaze. This, of course, is countered by Floriane, the virgin tramp who forges an impossible friendship with Marie.

Not only are the three female archetypes paint-by-numbers, but the situations that propel the narrative are so manipulated that it overshadows the few moments of greatness. Marie steals a bag of garbage thrown away by Floriane, sneaks it home and guiltily bites into a browned apple core. Not so much an Eve allusion as a picture of longing--the adolescent understanding of love as ownership and consumption--the scene is not only inspired, but echoes in a way that seems to be the basis of the project.

Unfortunately Sciamma ties the film together with neat little ribbons that don't represent what the world is made of. Floriane is embarrassed to have not lived up to her reputation when stud François wants to sleep with her. "It should be you," she tells Marie, speaking of her deflowering. Especially considering François is only using her to gain experience before laying fatso Anne. It all rings so disingenuous and out of touch, not to mention that all these kids are fifteen.

Water Lilies fumbles and gropes its way through a linear climax--one that is not only unfair to its subject matter but disappointing considering the ground it isn't worried about treading early. I'm not trying to force Water Lilies into some sort of cyclical box or vision of what I think female narrative should be, I am only contending that the source material deserves more than the contrivance we are left with. -- *½ / four stars

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