There are practically no adults in Water Lilies. None of any importance, anyway. Even its characters’ locus of activity and competition, the indoor public pool where they congregate for synchronized swimming rehearsals and performances, is rarely shown patrolled by anyone over the age of sixteen. Yet this isn’t like Peanuts‘ off-screen cameos, in which intimidating adults spout uniformly indecipherable squawks. Films from the vantage point of young people typically depict parents and teachers’ crucial presence in their lives, but Water Lilies instead subtly fashions a world where girls navigate sites of personal exploration unhindered by adult supervision. In her debut French director Céline Sciamma lets her adolescent creations figure out their sexuality all by themselves. She more than pulls off the conceit and in the process manages to portray same-sex experimentation originally and without an iota of titillating lasciviousness.
This will likely make Water Lilies a hard sell for American audiences mostly impressed by wisecracking teenagers insulated by precious irony (Juno), movie-of-the-week parenting nightmares (thirteen), or losers suffering condescendingly dispatched hells of humiliation and embarrassment (the films of Todd Solondz). The film’s rhythms are patient and lolling, its characters awkward and conflicted, its sense of scale telescoped to that of a young person’s heightened alertness and bold unpredictability, and it ultimately dares to take adolescent girls seriously rather than consider them in terms of freakish pathologies.
Click here to read Michael Joshua Rowin’s review of Water Lilies.