Reviewer's Rating 3 out of 5  
Girls Can't Swim (Les Filles ne savent pas nager) (2003)

Set in one of the many villages that line the Brittany coast, "Girls Can't Swim" is an evocative tale of adolescent love and longing that takes place amidst the sand dunes and crashing waves of Northern France.

Fifteen-year-old Gwen (Isild Le Besco) is obsessed with just two things: sleeping with as many of the local boys as she can get her hands on, and counting down the days until the return of her best friend Lise (Karen Alyx). But when Lise arrives, Gwen discovers that her two obsessions are mutually exclusive.

Causing quite a stir at London's Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in 2001, "Girls Can't Swim" has retained its "lesbian movie" tag even though, as many of the festival's audience members complained, it isn't really a gay film. Following Gwen and Lise's intense relationship, it's chock full of sweaty couplings, but all of them are heterosexual, leaving the repressed love of Lise for her friend largely unspoken.

Sexual politics aside, what makes "Girls Can't Swim" so involving is debut filmmaker Anne Sophie-Birot's nicely observed script, which treats its adolescent heroines with a wonderful amount of compassion.

Picking up on teenage petulance - there's a wry moment as Lise's all-girl family sit around watching figure skating on television wistfully recounting how they'd once wanted to be ice skaters to her infuriated annoyance - Sophie-Birot proves more interested in the welter of teenage emotions that her protagonists are experiencing and the effect it has on their long-suffering families.

Escaping to the beaches in the middle of the night, both girls discover that the family playground of their youth has transformed into a darker, adolescent stomping ground where all kinds of desires simmer to the surface. It's the kind of water where only women, not girls, can swim without fear of being hurt.

In French with subtitles.

End Credits

Director: Anne Sophie-Birot

Writer: Anne-Sophie Birot, Christophe Honoré

Stars: Isild Le Besco, Karen Alyx, Pascale Bussières, Pascal Elso, Marie Riviére

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Length: 101 minutes

Cinema: 18 April 2003

Country: France

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