STUDIO: Koch Lorber Films
MSRP: $23.99
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes
• Theatrical Trailer
• Trailers for other Koch Lorber films
• Deleted Scenes
• Casting Segments

The Pitch

The literal translation of the title would be Birth of the Octopi, which is a pitch if I ever heard one. It also happens to be a spot-on description of the characters’ situation: they’re young, they’re inexperienced, and it doesn’t take many of them to cause a tangled mess.

The Humans

Pauline Acquart. Louise Blachère. Adèle Haenal. Warren Jacquin.

The Nutshell

Behold, y’all: a coming-of-age tale, filmed and set in the 21st century, that contains no slang, no hip soundtrack, no cell phones, no melodramatic arguments with parents, and instead fills its running time with subtle character work. A movie about young people, sex, and swimming… that uses its setting for symbolism instead of one awkward “mouth-to-mouth” scene, or even any jokes about the concept. Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed it, either.

“As you can see, I’ve painted the Battle of Tanaab on the ceiling.”
“The brilliance of Lando’s military maneuver is only exceeded by your mastery of the Gambier Parry fresco process.”
[Their hands move closer together.]

The Lowdown

In her insular group of synchronized swimmers, Floriane (Haenal) is the Jesse James – feared, cocky, and bad to the bone – and she finds her Bob Ford in Marie (Acquart), a quiet girl who witnesses Floriane at a competition and becomes transfixed. After some light stalking, Marie convinces Floriane to accept her as a sidekick, trading access to the team’s practices and travels for help with whatever scheme Floriane has going at the time. Soon the two become great friends and confidantes.

Naturally, Marie’s previous BFF, the funny but insecure Anne (Blachère), is none too happy with this, especially when she realizes the boy she loves, well, just like Marie, he only has eyes for Floriane. What follows is described on the back of the box as “emotional chess.” Each of the characters has to contend with her own messy feelings about friendship and sexuality while trying to support/sabotage/open up to/hide things from the others.

The spray-on Sam Rockwell mask. New, from the makers of InstaMorse®.

Water Lilies benefits from both a slow approach and a short running time, and it can get away with the contradictory traits because of a singular focus. The movie is not about society’s reaction to the girls’ relationships; it’s not about parents, or gossip, or the passage of time, or anything else besides one early stage of one love triangle (which occasionally threatens to become a quadrilateral).

Writer/director Céline Sciamma uses the sport of synchronized swimming as a metaphor for the girls’ lives – it’s a pretty performance above the surface, but there’s turmoil and hard work underneath. It’s also apparently an all-female sport, if you know what I’m saying. There’s one male character, but he’s perpetually seen from the outside; however, this doesn’t feel like a political statement so much as another symptom of the film’s ruthless concentration on its one subject, which happens to be a group of girls.

“Beautiful view today.”
“So glad The Most High and Honorable Mistress Palin tore down that bearded, emancipatory statue back there.”

The concentration helps Water Lilies avoid an amazing amount of clichés that its plot, by all rights, should have walked straight into, from a reliance on stock supporting characters to cheap jokes relating from confusion about sexual preference. This has its drawbacks, though. The film can cram all the action into the hands of the main characters because each action is tiny. Sometimes the emotional beats are so subtle I didn’t notice one until the next had begun. And while the film mines no cheap humor from situations, it doesn’t get any more meaningful laughs, either – when you are this close to the characters, it becomes impossible to be amused by them in that way.

Overall, the film may have hit its target perfectly, but it leaves you with the feeling that it could have easily aimed higher. Water Lilies is much too well done to be a bad or average film, but it’s too small to be a truly great one.

Naw, man, they got the metric system. They don’t know what “Happy” Meal means.

The Package

In addition to English subtitles (good) and the film’s theatrical trailer (terrible), this release includes a few deleted scenes and a sampling of the girls’ casting tapes. They’re short and worthy of a watch. For fans of the film, the extra material and audition scenes contain nuggets that may inform a second viewing.

The case itself is above average, with a nice image only minimally obscured by one small front-of-the-box pullquote. One thing I love, by the way, is that the list of features on the back says “Deleted Scenes” and “Casting Segments” and that’s it. No need to fakespice it up with additions of subtitles, the original trailer, or “Sneak Peeks.” The disc has them, but it knows we know it has them, and that’s, you know, that’s classy. I’m just saying.

8.1 out of 10