Les filles ne savent pas nager
Anne-Sophie Birot and Christophe Honoré, 2000
This movie is not very good but is somewhat interesting. One reason
it's interesting is that the premise is not what it at first looks like
it will be.
Initially, the film focuses on Gwen. Gwen is fifteen and lives in Brittany.
She is totally obsessive about her friend Lise, who lives in Paris and visits
in the summers. She seems to write Lise a letter every day, speaks to her on
the phone constantly, leaves notes for her at the vacation house and so forth.
Lise seems to be her primary refuge from the crappy aspects of her home life:
the family's struggling financially and her dad's a drunk. But this summer
Lise isn't coming for some reason — at first the story is that she's
stuck in summer school, then it's that she has other vacation plans. It seems
as though Gwen is being given the brushoff.
So it looks like this is going to be one of those stories about asymmetrical
friendships — it'll turn out that Lise barely even thinks about Gwen
the rest of the year, or she'll be a Parisian sophisticate who increasingly
thinks of her summer friend as an embarrassing bumpkin, etc.
Except as it turns out, the reason Lise can't come is that her father (who
had abandoned the family before Lise can remember) has died and she has to
go to the funeral and deal with her grieving relatives and the like. She
actually sneaks off to Brittany at the first opportunity and she and Gwen
have a joyous reunion. Now it looks like the story is going to be about
how the two girls become more than friends and have to deal with familial
disapproval and that whole deal. But that is also a false lead.
What the movie actually ends up being about is an asymmetrical
friendship the other way around. See, when we meet Gwen, she is a huge
geyser of hormones who blows up every few minutes and then sneaks out at
night to fume (both in the English and French sense) and get drunk and
have sex with various boys. Lise isn't like this at all and flips out
when she learns that her friend, on whom she does indeed have a crush,
is the town slut. Gwen never mentioned that in her letters. So now
Gwen thinks that Lise is childish and Lise is the one who's leaving
apologetic poetry around the house for Gwen.
This would make for a nifty switcheroo except that it's kind of lost in
the general volatility of the characters. Gwen rockets back and forth
every couple of minutes between hugs for everyone and storming out into
the night. Okay, she's a teenager. Her dad is getting back together
with her mother one day, moving out again the next, drunkenly assaulting
people the day after that, the wise patriarch on day four. Okay, he's
an alcoholic. You can make a case that people really are just that
mercurial and that this is mimesis. But narrative depends to a great
extent on character arcs, and here they're kind of lost in the noise.
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