Water Lilies (Naissance Des Pieuvres)

Céline Sciamma’s debut film is a queer, French coming-of-age drama about three 15-year-old girls, each one exploring their own sexual identity in the Paris suburbs, and linked together by their membership of a synchronised swimming team (though main protagonist Marie is, notably, a wannabe team member who we first encounter on the outside looking in). Sciamma writes teenagers very well – or at least it seems that way to me, whose teenage years are long gone – and it looks as if she identified closely with her three characters while writing this screenplay; their negotiation through fumbles, awkward encounters and parties are dealt with in a low-key, sympathetic fashion. It’s stripped back and Sciamma rarely exhibits the kind of visual flair later seen in Girlhood, but the approach suits the material, the performances are good, and it’s interesting to see Adèle Haenel in an early role, given that she has developed into one of France’s best young actors. Incidentally, the French title translates into English as ‘Birth of the Octopuses’. (***½)