When: Thursday, April 3, 2008 @ 6:30 PM
Where: The Royal Cinema @ College & Grace
What: Cinefranco 2008
More details: Cinefranco Website
La Naissance des Pieuvres is a lovely coming-of-age story about three fifteen-year-old girls and the beginnings of their sexual exploits, without romanticizing adolescence or, for the most part, over-estimating their maturity. The film centres around a local synchronized swimming team and its captain, the gorgeous, luscious blonde, Floriane, her teammate, the slightly plump, Anne, and Marie, the quiet outsider and observer, who longs to join the team.
Floriane is sexually precocious; she is very pretty and thus well-liked by all the boys, and equally disliked by her female contemporaries. She gains her acceptance and security in the only way she knows how: by winning the affections of libidinous boys infatuated with her and developing a tough, bitchy, thick-skin to ward off jealous and cruel girls. As much as she claims to enjoy her exploits, Floriane seems to carry on out of obligation or to meet expectations rather than for personal pleasure or gain. In truth, she is terrified of sexual intercourse and even more so of her virginity being discovered. In one of her first scenes, we see Floriane fixing her hair meticulously, in the bathroom with Marie, and then coming in close – too close – to Marie, to check her breath, preparing for an evening of obligatory snogging with boys.
Anne, on the other hand, longs for the attention of boys, not so much because she is really interested, but because she is “behind in kissing”; she feels she needs to get started. The boy she is interested in, who accidentally walked in on her when she was naked and changing in the change room alone wants the more conventionally beautiful Floriane. The film spends a lot of time showing us Anne’s insecurities about her body and her sexuality. Sometimes it’s overly obvious and conventional; she tells her teammates that she is not yet changing because she is waiting for her bathing suit to dry, having forgotten her underwear though she is merely too shy to expose her slightly-less-than-perfect body to the scrutinizing eyes of the other girls. In actuality, she is hardly what one would call overweight: she has the curves of womanhood though perhaps in slight excess of normalcy. Sometimes the embodiment of her insecurities, and the awkward moments that follow, are spot-on, and induce uneasiness because they are so familiar.
Anne is friends with Marie, who rarely speaks. They share intimacy without saying much. Marie watches Anne swim, and in doing so, she meets Floriane, who she uses to gain access to the swimming pool to watch the team swim. In return, Floriane uses Marie to help her carry on her affairs. They clash at first, but Floriane soon learns to trust Marie, the only person in her life who does not look at her with disgust, nor as a piece of meat to be played with. Marie looks up to and idolizes Floriane. Floriane is used to such behaviour but not from other girls and she thrives on it. She longs for Marie’s approval, even if she is too frightened to always offer a reciprocal relationship. The girls grow closer to one another. Marie appears to have lesbian tendencies and Floriane only knows how to have relationships of a sexual nature. For the most part, things are only hinted at, but the development of their relationship is sweet, heartbreaking, erotic, and tragic, all at once. If only these girls could have a functional relationship which did not involve exploiting their bodies because they believe they are at an age when such behaviour is expected.
Each of the three girls represents, a perhaps extreme, version of your average adolescent girl. I have known girls like each of these; the film is observant in the details of each girl’s modus operandus. All of them are trying to live up to some imposed timeline for sexual exploration, but none of them are particularly ready to be doing what they feel they must do. They hurt one another, sometimes cruelly and cattily, but they take comfort in one another, too.
The film has some beautiful sequences of the synchronized swimmers, without romanticizing or elevating these amazing athletes. There are some close-up shots where we see them splashing away in the water or gasping for breath. We cannot idolize these adolescents; they are confused and everything is messy despite how hard they try to keep up appearances, however misguided these appearances may be. The film strikes a perfect balance between showing us, believably, what teenaged girls are doing, how they interact with one another and the asshole boys – the only kind of boys they seem to know – that they kiss, with small glimpses of how they are struggling to cope with their confusion. An American film might approach the subject matter by glorifying their sexual awakening, experimentation, and assume that these young women are capable of coping with their actions. But Céline Sciamma’s Naissance Des Pieuvres, instead, has the patience to understand and embrace the young women’s confusion without glorifying or criticizing their actions. That is what makes La Naissance Des Pieuvres a winning and truthful gem about adolescence.