In the same vein, Doillon builds sequences around cellphone calls and online chat site sessions between her protagonists, during which, of course, they talk far more candidly. Throughout these exchanges, moreover, Doillon pointedly retains classical conversation devices like shot-reverse shot, reaction shots, and even eyeline matches, cutting back and forth as lines are tapped onto keyboards, emoticons created, or exclamations muttered into handsets. At times, Doillon showcases teen multimedia like a subcultural epidemic, tapping insidiously into widespread fears about parents losing control over their children.
During these improvisations, Doillon went so far as to rewrite her final script based on what the guest teenagers did and said, even retaining input from those not eventually cast. Subsequent rehearsals were minimized to allow the cast just to spend time together, developing off-camera relationships that flavored the filmed sequences. The effect is heightened for viewers following the English subtitles, which attempt about 70 percent of what is said on-screen; the French closed captions similarly struggle to transcribe the more colorful streams of consciousness.
Catchphrases, banter, quips, and offhand epithets are codes for teenage identities slowly slipping away from the linguistic and social mainstream. It works, blow by blow, as a means of self-definition, of finding a place in a group and testing your links with others.
One scene is pointedly didactic. Wasting all that National Education money is scandalous, demeaning. A common feature of the debutant films in our quintet and beyond, a painfully apt analogy, is that quintessential first-time act, the loss of virginity. This so-called loss of physical innocence, the most intimate rite of passage, is treated instead like an awkward obligation, pleasurable to neither gender, a peer-pressured, mechanical deed that leaves little positive emotional trace. Meeting in a locker room while on a break at the meat processing factory love in a sterilized abattoir , Doillon first supplies a point-of-view shot of him appraising her torso and naked midriff, eyes lingering on her exposed navel.
Two more medium shots follow: she smiles back; he stares on, dumbly. A brief rightward long shot track then shows them copulating on the floor, almost fully clothed, in absolute silence. Here, the film makes first-time sex like filleting meat, flesh violently rendered, an unappetizing preparation process.
Her virginity is also lost in clinical fashion, a transaction with Nico that Vincent hypocritically protests as loveless. It begins with another wordless shot, the couple perched uneasily on a bed in a tiny borrowed apartment. They complete their arrangement as before, in long shot, in silence, with no sign of gratification on either side.
How does one get from her life to theirs? First-time sex, the most consummately intimate act in French young cinema, is maliciously tender indeed. The two are sister texts, equally compelling parts of an ongoing conversation within twenty-firstcentury French film. Sciamma was twenty-seven when she made her first film, five years younger than Doillon.
The introverted Marie is skinny and petite, whereas Anne, her cast-off best friend, is a much larger girl in build and height, boisterous in her behavior yet painfully lacking self-esteem. The film starts with Marie fixated on the swim team captain, Floriane, a more conventionally attractive and physically mature girl, popular with boys yet the subject of vicious gossip among her female peer group, who accuse her falsely of sexual promiscuity.
Two final ironies complete the narrative during a final set-piece at a party in the Cergy youth center. These first-time films immerse us in an unfulfilling and cryptic subculture, a numbing dead time with jolts of painful self-exposure. Both filmmakers use non-professional actors for lead roles that are frequently opaque, volatile yet uncommunicative, at best unevenly sympathetic.
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Both films counterpoint burgeoning female sexual impulses with the deterioration of sincere and long-term friendships, a dynamic that prefigures virgin sex acts which neither gratify nor satisfy. Since so much young French cinema is shaped by the inchoate passions of the fledgling adult, Water Lilies renders such encounters correspondingly obscure, understated yet strangely lyrical.
This is a film about assertive yet uncommunicative teenagers that is itself abrasively, painstakingly indirect. As we saw with Doillon, the task of the first-time director is to project cinematic maturity. These rites-of-passage materials are so self-evidently well-worn that they need reinvention on-screen, a conscious process of defamiliarization. Concomitant to this, through textual citation and off-screen self-promotion, is the opportunity for the first-time director to advance her cinephilia and nascent auteurist credentials. The generation gap here widens precipitously, young and old divorced to an absurdist degree.
Je partirais bien si tu venais avec moi. C'est bien pratique! Si je pouvais la voir, je le ferais. Proposal for a visual media exhibition with the participation of students of the Master of Film at the Dutch Film Academy, Amsterdam. Lesson Am I speaking to the plumber?
Even beyond the confines of family, Water Lilies has only five adult speaking roles: none of these characters is named, and among them they muster barely a dozen lines, most of which are banalities, like a swimming pool attendant reciting membership rules to Marie. More provocatively, Sciamma uses the same principle of reduction with men.
From this approach comes a clear gender imbalance but also a disorienting sense of the world of girls, girls alone. I wanted to talk more about girls than adolescence itself. In Water Lilies, Sciamma configures Cergy on-screen as a landscape of jutting, monumentalist architecture and sprawling plazas. Permeating its intrusively stylized diegetic world, Water Lilies is highly elliptical at the level of narration and stylistic design.
Neither overarching plot causality nor time-space continuity connect individual scenes, which accumulate rather than cohere. After the quartet of shots ends, Sciamma conversely cuts to pitch black night. The first shot, a high angle, is a starkly symmetrical extreme long shot of the two girls walking away from the camera, for seventeen seconds, towards a row of huge concrete pillars at the end of a massive concrete square high above the surrounding countryside.
We discern the Paris skyline under grey cloud cover, dwarfed by the shot scale, distantly visible in the rearground. Next, we cut across the axis to a low angle medium shot taken from below the girls, who perch, in shadows, on the steps underneath the pillared causeway.
The sky behind them has now turned azure blue. After a brief cutaway to the rolling landscape below, the pay-off shot, eighty-four seconds long, begins. The technique is pressed, at times perversely, during flashpoints of dramatic tension which avoid conversation or restrict it to disproportionately laconic asides; the film and its adolescents are articulately inarticulate. Often, Sciamma allows her actors just one performative gesture, a dismissive or contemptuous tic, to track the inevitable teenaged course of disaffected sexual desire.
In this vein, more disconcertingly, almost nothing at all is said after Floriane loses her virginity to Marie. Water Lilies returns repeatedly to highly abstracted patterns of bodies in motion: teenaged activities represented as densely lyrical, expressively charged routines, often derived from extended passages of swimming and dancing. While Water Lilies dwells on the pure physicality of swimming, its ritualistic energy, it follows the same logic of stylistic abstraction with the act of dance.
The Water Lilies soundtrack, often nondiegetic and heavily syncopated, blends shrill, tinny electronic strings, distended minor-key treble slides often distorted by pitch bends, with intermittently off-beat rhythms, to create a weirdly disjunctive accompaniment to the wordless image-track. This is the artful directorial cameo, the filmmaker as product placement, a signature feature adopted by the New Wave generation. Before the Cahiers cognoscenti, of course, this motif of overt directorial fingerprints had long been popularized in Franco-American circles by a series of attention-getting devices.
Other major directors followed suit: from D. Debutant filmmakers thereby mimicked the hallmarks of long-established celebrity directors, stating their own prodigious textual ambitions. There, they meet Sciamma, a surly, gumchewing server, one of the handful of adults in Water Lilies who talks. Visibly irritated, Sciamma asks the girls their age, and on hearing the answer fifteen responds brusquely, one eyebrow raised, that they are too old for Happy Meals.
Ultimately, if Water Lilies is a film about burgeoning desire and rites of passage, the awkwardly defining passages of adolescent cravings, then Sciamma reserves final judgment on the process, herself, on-screen. Coming-of-age, articulated as a joke with a highly self-reflexive undercurrent, is about how much you have to pay in the fast food outlet, commercialized teenaged identity as fighting for the right to be simultaneously a child and a grown-up.
In the first place, these inaugural filmmakers share a common professional trajectory in France, that of performers-turned-directors, actors moving behind the camera. Once again, a salient discourse to the French debutant is her means of self-representation: as a cineliterate, critically empowered, historically engaged artist-in-training.
When one wants to practice an art, it seems essential to me to engage with what others have done, so as not to be isolated by yourself, immersed only in your own work. Just as prestigious are the regular actor-turned-director events at the RendezVous with French Cinema series.
This gala festival, an annual collaboration between UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City, presents screenings, panel discussions, and practical seminars with French filmmakers, and has become one of the leading venues for French cinema in North America, a more prestigious neighbor of the yearly French Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. All Is Forgiven and Those Who Remain both deal with the fragmentation of families and marriages, a theme of domestic dissolution that resonates widely in recent French cinema.
Such onscreen materials relate in part to social upheavals off-screen: the fairly typical data that almost half The marriage strains and breaks, in part because a demoralized Victor lapses into his former habits as a heroin addict. After a jump of eleven years, to Paris, the film then shifts to the perspective of an older Pamela, who rediscovers her lost father and begins a relationship with him, in part conducted through letters and shared poetry, which starts to deepen touchingly, only to end with his abrupt and premature death.
This is a common and pragmatic course among debutant French directors. Unlike Water Lilies, these are dialogue-intensive films with a highly classical repertoire: typically medium shot conversations with shot-reverse shot emphases, set off with occasional close-ups or long takes to preserve any particularly sequential nuances of a given scene.
Either way, none of these first-time filmmakers could be accused of lacking self-consciousness or being conformist. This is the structure of All Is Forgiven, established from its opening, which hints clearly at the tensions eroding this family unit. Leaving the apartment to play tennis, father and daughter hit their ball off walls, the ground, and each other, and the two actors simply play, in impromptu reaction to where the ball bounces, who retrieves it and serves, who leads the way.
The payoff comes, though, when Annette arrives in a static insert that interrupts both the stylistic flow and the tennis. Victor, we infer, is the source of anarchic fun in this household whereas Annette is the reluctant disciplinarian; one parent, not two, is present in this family tableau. A potential strength of this actorly aesthetic is its lack of strident or sentimental emphases, a fraught point when dealing with highly charged materials like divorce and terminal illness.
Two pivotal moments in All Is Forgiven and Those Who Remain, short scenes in which marriages quietly end, illustrate the technique.
The same moment of understated domestic demise, realized largely through performance, comes a third of the way through All Is Forgiven. Victor stumbles home drunk, late at night, and for the first time hits his wife. Instead of aftermath, we immediately cut to breakfast the next day, a medium long shot held for nearly a minute, in which Pamela obliviously munches on her cereal, in motion constantly, while her two parents, sitting on either side of the frame, hold their bodies in awkward symmetrical poses, their faces rigid masks. Cut to Victor, hunching over in defeat; then finally to Pamela, blithe, unaware that her life is forever changed by what has just taken place.
Even more so, in All Is Forgiven, a film about two adults increasingly focuses on the young Pamela, ultimately the real victim of the split family, and her lost time with her dead father. From both these conclusions, it seems, for the debutant director the figure of the child onlooker offers an invigorating view of the mystifying adult world, its vicissitudes refracted through the perceptual ambitions of these emerging filmmakers. This is the world perceived through immature eyes, creating a vulnerable yet keenly aware consciousness, a fresh and highly cinematic perspective on cynical adult deeds.
In its film version, Persepolis claimed the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, where its premiere ended with a twenty-fiveminute standing ovation.