Marie (Pauline Acquart) and Anne (Louise Blachère) are best friends, united in being not terribly popular. Anne is in the synchronized swimming team, as is Floriane (Adèle Haenel) with whom Marie is very much in love, while Anne has her eye on François (Warren Jacquin) who happens to be dating Floriane. When both Marie and Anne go after their crushes without telling the other, things become very complicated, though.
Water Lilies is a beautiful coming-of-age film, at once kind and emotionally raw, it will probably remind you of many moments when you were young yourself – mostly in a good way. Absolutely fantastic.
Water Lilies is a very clear-eyed look at what it means to grow up a woman in a patriarchy. With Marie, Anne and Floriane (all three perfectly cast and acted) we get three very different experiences of it that are all facets of this, but all three are united in going very clearly after what they (think they) want, albeit in very different ways and with very different results.
Marie is a lesbian and she knows it. She is also small and shy, but nevertheless, she manages to get close to Floriane, even if Floriane doesn’t share her feelings. Or doesn’t think she does. Floriane, in contrast, is beautiful and desired. She is aware of it, as well as her reputation of being easy that comes with the attention she receives. She is both uncomfortable with the (male) attention she gets – an attention that is not respectful of her or her boundaries more often than not – and has already grown expert at elliciting it. And finally Anne who is a little chubby and therefore doesn’t really get on the boys’ radar at all, no matter how much she craves it. She has none of Floriane’s finesse, so she comes on too strong, always teetering on the edge of being ridiculous.
In the end, both Marie and Anne manage to find some freedom in not conforming to expectations, in extricating themselves from playing the patriarchal games to a certain extent, while Floriane stays behind in that system.
I can hardly believe that this is Sciamma’s debut feature, it already feels so self-assured and clear, and already shows her style. She obviously loves all three of her characters, but she doesn’t spare them – or us – the pain of growing up, of falling (unrequitedly) in love for the first time, of awkward sexual encounters – but all in a reassuring way. In the end, we all made it through those parts of life – and you will, too.