I found Water Lilies (2007) after watching Celine Sciamma’s Palm masterpiece film Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). Although I can see how the latter is a more accomplished film, something about Water Lilies left a deeper mark on my soul.
The story follows Marie (Pauline Acquart), a shy and observant adolescent who doesn’t seem to have many friends aside from her bestie, the harmlessly dorky Anne (Louise Blachère). One day, Marie watches the school synchronised swim team perform and becomes entranced by Floriane (Adèle Haenel), an attractive and confident girl.
The two develop a connection that is clearly something more than a platonic friendship. For Marie it’s a queer sexual awakening. She grows increasingly attached to Floriane, whose feelings are more ambiguous. Floriane pushes Marie’s buttons and plays with her feelings a lot.
She uses the ambiguity of their friendship to her advantage. At times she treats Marie as though she’s a girlfriend- at other times she switches and treats her like a little sister, talking about men she might have sex with and flirting with men in front of Marie, as if she wouldn’t care.
By the end of the film, Marie, Floriane and Anne have all had some form of sexual awakening, Marie in particular. Whilst the main talking point of the film is Marie’s queer journey and the relationship between the two girls, I want to dedicate this article to Floriane.
Floriane & The Power of Shamelessness
I care so much about Floriane’s character as she is the perfect embodiment of the phrase ‘when you are shameless, you are powerful’. Although at first sight she might seem like a popular girl, Floriane doesn’t actually have many female friends.
She’s a bit of an outsider, due to the fact that the other girls at school think that she’s a ‘slut’. However, when a girl confronts her in the changing rooms about her promiscuity, Floriane doesn’t shy away from it, instead she embraces their accusations.
This is one of my favourite scenes in the film. . It felt so empowering to see a girl on screen be so fucking badass and shameless about her sexual appetite and how much she enjoys it. At the end of the conversation, it’s easy to see that the girl accusing Floriane is simply uncomfortable in her own sexuality.
Through her shamelessness, Floriane reveals the insecurities of the person trying to put her down. Love it.
The funny thing is that we later learn that Floriane is actually a virgin. It becomes more clear that she is actually very unsure of her sexuality herself, but through her confidence or at least feigned confidence, she gives herself status.
This stands in stark contrast to the character of Marie. Marie is ashamed of herself and everything that represents her. For example, she is ashamed of Anne being her friend.
Her increasingly embarrassed attitude towards Anne only makes the two of them look worse, and less powerful. If Marie embraced Anne, and all of her stereotypically ‘dorky’ traits, it would bring her more power.
Marie’s shame is most notable in her sexuality. She is clearly humiliated by her adoration of Floriane and of her queerness. She understandably isn’t yet comfortable in her own skin and her feelings paralyse her. There is an internalised homophobia and internalised sexism that you can feel when watching the film, and we see that she sort of hates herself because of this.
Part of her also hates Floriane in this way. When watching the film, you can sense her resentment towards Floriane’s carefree and open sexual nature. Within her desire, is also a sort of jealousy/discomfort.
I’m not hating on Marie for this. Marie is actually the more truthful of the two characters, the least selfish, the more openly vulnerable. For all of Floriane’s flaws, she is a very admirable character to me, because she is so strong in her refusal to be ashamed.
‘A woman is taught that she should be ashamed when she says yes and also when she says no.’ Even though it’s clear Floriane is going through her own shit with her sexuality and with the girls from school, she is so determined to remain powerful.
I also noticed that Floriane is a confident, queer, shameless character, but Celine Sciamma hasn’t cast her to look like a stereotypical masculine lesbian, with no boobs, short hair etc.
I love that she instead gives power to the feminine and allows Floriane to be an authoritative character whilst still looking womanly. Because there’s nothing wrong with looking womanly! It doesn’t and shouldn’t make anyone less powerful.
Floriane’s character is a homage to all the sexually liberated girls out there, all the sex workers who deal with shit from the world for being overtly sexual.
I remember when my mother first found out that I had been involved in sex work and made me feel like the most gross, fucked up person in the world for it, I used to watch that clip of Floriane in the changing rooms over and over. I saw myself in her character, and it gave me strength. To me, that’s what film and art in general is all about.