Water Lilies [subtitled]

Water Lilies

I read multiple reviews of the French film Water Lilies that expressed concern or disapproval that it “smacks of child pornography,” “veers uncomfortably close to child pornography,” etc. Just goes to show how paranoid and panicky people are about that hot button issue, because this movie is really, really tame in that regard. I believe the characters are supposed to be about 15-16 years old (I don’t know how old the actresses playing them are—probably older). There’s kissing, there’s very brief nudity (though the hot one never gets naked), and there’s brief pantomime intercourse where you can’t see anything. I guess that counts as pornography if you’re desperate to find it everywhere you look.

Anyway, this is a “coming of age” story about teenage girls, focusing mostly on three in particular. One is the hot one. One is a brooding, nerdy one. One is a chubby one.

The hot one is not a bimbo type who acts all ditzy to attract boys, nor is she the kind of person who sees her looks in a positive way as enhancing her life with the opportunities and happiness it makes available. She’s more the type who’s aware of the attention her looks bring and resents it, but grimly takes the attitude, “If I’m stuck being this hot, I might as well use it to manipulate people and get what I want in life.”

She seems to have little or no genuine interest in sex, nor in having a significant relationship with a boy where you actually get to know each other as people. Instead, she’s a total tease, enjoying the fact that she has a reputation as a slut, because it makes people think they’re going to get something by dating her, and then she just strings them along for sport and doesn’t deliver (she’s a virgin).

The nerdy one is fascinated with her from the start of the movie, a fascination that either develops into a lesbian attraction, or more likely is one all along. The hot one uses this to manipulate the nerdy one as she would a boy, disdainfully treating her as a useful flunky in exchange for allowing her in her presence. Later she softens up a bit, and is slightly less of a bitch toward her than she is toward everyone else, though she remains the dominant partner.

The nerdy one and the chubby one are friends, but clash off and on, in part due to the nerdy one’s obsession with the hot one.

I think the movie does at least a decent job of capturing what it feels like to be that age, struggling with friendship, sex, and all the complicated emotions of being half-child and half-adult. It never hit me very hard, though.

Probably it’s just too far removed from my life experience to stir up the emotions of recognition. Some of this stuff is universal I suppose, but this is a foreign movie, completely from the female perspective. (All the males in the movie are as bereft of complexity or an inner life as inanimate objects, perhaps reflecting the fact that the girls can only interact with them as objects, since they haven’t developed any insight into them yet, beyond the hot one’s rudimentary, instinctive ability to manipulate them.)

Plus, while I hated junior high school and high school with a passion, I mostly didn’t have the “regular” emotional traumas of dealing with the opposite sex and parties and popularity and all that. I wasn’t so much a failure at such things as a non-participant. I was shy and mostly kept to myself and counted the days till I could leave. I dropped out and left home at 17, and moved straight into adulthood without the kind of transition depicted in this movie. That is, I had the relationship and sex complications and awkwardness all at once as a pseudo-adult, never having gone through this training stage as a kid in a group setting with kids.

So only to a very limited extent did this film put me back to when I was that age.

There’s not much in the way of a resolution or a big climax to the movie, unless I missed it; it’s one of those films that lets you spend some time with some people and then just kind of ends as they continue to live their life, which I typically find mildly unsatisfying.

It isn’t the hardest film to follow, but it’s also not too easy. A fair amount of the time you’re supposed to infer certain things from how people are looking at each other, and the tempo of the music on the soundtrack and such; there’s less dialogue than in the average movie.

The obvious comparison of the movies I’ve written about so far is Somersault, about the Australian teenage girl becoming sexually active. In both films, the girls are at a stage that when they have sex, they don’t seem to particularly enjoy it, and haven’t worked out why or if they should have let it happen in the first place. Sex is very much on their minds, and at some level they want it or think that it’s somehow time to start their sex life, but it’s not something that as yet really has a positive role in their life.

Somersault was a bit more of a struggle for me to follow, though it maybe stayed with me a bit more than I expected at the time. Water Lilies held my interest slightly better, but feels like it had an equal or less impact on me. So on balance I don’t have a strong preference. They’re both a bit below average compared to the movies I’ve written about so far.

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