Thursday, January 9, 2020

Water Lillies Is An Intricately-Crafted Coming of Age Yarn

You tend to learn a lot about yourself when you're a teenager and that's all too true of the three lead characters of Water Lilies. The debut directorial effort from acclaimed auteur Celine Sciamma, the most prominent of this trio is Marie (Pauline Acquart). She's a teenage girl who usually spends her time getting into oddball mischief with best friend Anne (Louise Blachere). However, Marie is starting to spend more and more time with swimmer Floriane (Adele Haenel). Though ostracized by the other members of her swim team for her supposedly promiscuous ways, Floriane and Marie begin to develop an unexpected bond, one that leads them to discover that their sexuality is a lot more complicated than they initially presumed.

That's not the only thing that's becoming complicated now that Marie and Floriane are growing closer. The once thick-as-thieves friendship between Marie and Anne has crumbled now that the former spends all her free time with Floriane. All of that uber-complicated friendship/relationship intrigue that makes up so much of our teenage years (myself included) is authentically reflected in Sciamma's screenwriting. However, the characters work well beyond just representing specific types of conflict one has when they're a teenager. Marie, Anne and Floriane are all well-rounded people in their own right that Sciamma refuses to turn into easy one-dimensional antagonists or heroes.

Whether they're finding romance in each other's company, yelling at each other or anything in between, the motivations behind the actions of Water Lillies' lead characters remains as crystal-clear as a calm pool of water. You don't agree with Marie when she bitterly insults Anne (at least, I'd hope not!) but it's not a contrived moment of conflict. One understands completely what personal feelings of self-discovery and insecurity inform this moment for Marie. Nobody in the primary trio anchoring Water Lillies is around to become a caricature, they're all around to become recognizably human creations that you can easily get invested in.

Even when the climax rolls around and things begin to shift towards Marie having to pick between Anne and Floriane, well, it never becomes quite as simple as that and the characters aren't reduced to simplified versions of themselves to make this conflict happen. The handling of Floriane in this sequence is especially impressive. She's such a morally complex throughout the whole production but the way she's portrayed as being partially sympathetic in her casual eschewing of the chance to embrace deeper romantic feelings for Marie is especially well-done. In this finale, Sciamma is able to simultaneously plant us in so many people's point-of-view without getting lost in the woods.

Through this sequence, she give viewers a sense of all the stigma-induced pressures Floriane is under and why that would motivate her to leave Marie behind while also making Marie's internal pain over losing Floriane visceral. Such accomplishment in Sciamma's insightful style of writing is critical to getting one captivated by these characters who headline Water Lillies. However, Sciamma's visual skills as a filmmaker are also a critical reason for the emotionally engrossing nature of Water Lillies. For one thing, Sciamma is brilliant at incorporating flashes of bright color into the world Marie and company inhabit. Sciamma masterfully drops distinct bright colors the same way John Mulaney skillfully delivers a comic punchline; with careful precision.

Blue and red are especially employed in interesting ways as they become associated with two conflicting parts of Marie's life. Blue is frequently used to represent Anne while red is seen everywhere in elements of Floriane's world, including in the swim team uniforms. In the middle of these two contrasting colors is Marie, whose frequently marked (via costumes and certain sets) by a bright shade of green. Meanwhile, Sciamma echoes the Peanuts comic strip in her choice to leave adult characters almost entirely off-screen. Through this means, the trio of lead teen characters basically just have each other, there isn't even a parent they can turn to for an escape into sage advice. Isolating them from adults helps to make the conflicting emotions Marie and company navigate throughout Water Lillies all the more powerfully rendered. It's true that you learn a lot about yourself when you're a teenager and such a rich messy coming-of-age experience is thoughtfully captured through Celina Scammia's directorial debut Water Lillies.

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