For years, teenagers Gwen and Lise have enjoyed spending their summer vacations together on the Brittany coast, but this summer is different. Gwen's newfound interest in the opposite sex has caused a rift between the two, ... more »leading both girls to reexamine their friendship.« less
Dafydd Mac an Leigh | Waltham, MA USA | 09/29/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I'm frequently impressed at how well French filmmakers capture the tumultuous emotions of adolescence. While most American films try for "popcorn pulp" treatments of teenage life - light, cliched situations played out by kids who seem to have been cast for how well they'd grace the cover of Seventeen or YM Magazines rather than for any acting talent - Girls Can't Swim (or Les Filles Ne Savent Pas Nager, as the French call it) offers serious explorations of the minds and passions of its two fifteen-year-old protagonists, played with intense passion and sincerity by its stars. The basic premise is nothing new: Gwen and Lise have grown up best of friends, and Lise and her family spend every summer vacation at the beach town where Gwen lives. But this summer, Gwen is less inclined to spend time with Lise as she is with the local boys, who are eager to take advantage in her newfound interest in sex. Lise, whose estranged father has recently died, begins replacing Gwen as favorite in the eyes of Gwen's unemployed father. And the intimate friendship they have treasured all their lives unravels with each new conflict.Visually, the movie is absolutely beautiful. The acting by the two stars is superb, and the characters they play are beautifully developed - fully believable adolescents. Isild Le Besco deftly captures the desperation behind Gwen's freewheeling and promiscuous experimentations with sex, and Karen Alyx infuses Lise with an almost dangerous, introverted fire, remeniscent of Melanie Lynskey in Heavenly Creatures. Many of the supporting roles were very well-played too, especially Sandrine Blancke as Lise's older sister Vivianne and Pascal Elso as Gwen's father Alain. And unlike the vast majority of cinema I've seen, this film makes a marked distinction between sex and nudity. Yes, the girls get naked from time to time; yet, with the exception of one important scene which functions as a major turning point in the story, nearly none of the nudity is involved in the sex. The love/hate duality of the relationships among the various characters within the film is honest and believable, and the "disfunctional"-ness of the two families (and their self-destructive attempts to escape from their own lives) is well-calculated. I can forgive all but one of the film's flaws (lack of any male characters even half as well-defined as the female ones, weak dialogue, lack of narrative coherence, etc.) on account of its strengths. But there is one I cannot forgive. At the climax of the story, a catastrophic event occurs that threatens to destroy the friendship permanently, and the film ends there. There is no aftermath, no resolution of any kind. It merely cuts off at the climax. The effect is tantamount to ending Empire Strikes Back the moment Darth Vader drops his famous bombshell about Luke Skywalker's true pedigree. All the more so because not only do you never find out what this does to the two girls and their futures, you never find out if the catastrophe that happened was purely an accident, as it seems on the surface, or if Lise had been planning it. It's one of those violations of dramatic structure that can't go by unnoticed or unobjected-to. I'd say rent before you buy it, and judge for yourself if the powerful performances it has going for it make it worth buying despite the fact it's missing its third act."
French movies, got to love them
Heather Hays | Goodfellow-AFB, TX United States | 07/22/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I do own this film and I bought it after renting it for it's bizarre, unique plot that comes across as outright laughable sometimes. This is a coming of age film about two friends: a promiscuos teenager named Gwen who seems to wear the same pair of pants throughout the entire movie and her friend Lise.
They visit each other every summer and throughout the rest of the year they carry on a close correspondence. Lise has just bought a new bathing suit and is planning her trip back when tragedy strikes and her father dies. The bathing suit, I think is supposed to symbolize her entrance into womanhood, but unfortunately this bathing suit is the ugliest thing I have ever seen.
Her and Gwen begin to realize they are very different. First of all, Gwen likes sex, really likes it. She is caught in "the act" at least twice. Lise is disappointed because of how things have changed and she begins to bond instead with Gwen's father, which causes an even bigger rift between them. The film ends on such a laughably bizarre note that I had to give it kudos, because I didn't think it could get any more absurd.
If you buy this movie, it works as a coming of age film, even though it is a little melodramatic. Also, you need to take it with a grain of salt. I liked this movie because the plot was so stupid at times that I found it incredibly amusing. It is another one of those famous french movies, you know, with the 13-15 year old girl getting naked and demanding that a man, often twice her age, satisfy her. This film also does have some serious undertones, and if they had maybe just taken the melodrama down a couple of notches, the message would be a lot clearer."
Irritating and unorigional
J. Wyman | St. Louis, MO | 01/14/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I don't remember seeing Isild Le Besco in any other films, but she does look a bit familiar. If I have seen her elsewhere, it must have been in a role that she performed with much greater insight and finesse than Gwen from 'Girl's Can't Swim', or I definitely would remember. I'm still not sure what the title actually means... something about young women struggling to find their way... blah blah blah... but, it actually wasn't a terrible film. Nevertheless, Le Besco's performance is one of the most irritating I've seen in years. I was reminded of Dorothy Parker's cutting remark when critiquing a Katherine Hepburn film: 'She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.' Le Besco was either shown with an extremely obnoxous smile plastered on her face, or she was smacking her friends or family in a 'hissy fit of rage'. These tantrums always ended with Gwen running off to the sea with all the grace of a three-legged moose. What made LeBesco's performance stand out even more was the fact that everyone else's performances were nearly flawless. This film was recommended to me after purchasing 'L'Effrontee', a truly marvelous picture. While watching the first 30 minutes of 'Girl's Can't Swim' I could see that I was not the only person who admired 'L'Effontee's' subtle brilliance. Obviously the director and/or screenwriter of 'Girl's Cant' Swim' intended on building upon the other film's message, but as a lark, they subtracted all of its poignance and sensitivity. I give the film 2 out of 5 because, despite its flaws, it is still superior to the vast majority of 'toejam' that hollywood produces each year."
Two-thirds of a great film
Muzzlehatch | the walls of Gormenghast | 11/09/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"We begin with Gwen (Isild Le Besco), a 15 or 16-year-old girl living in a precarious situation - financially and emotionally, with regards both to her parents and her string of boyfriends - in a small, heavily tourist-dependent fishing village in Brittany. She eagerly awaits the arrival of her friend Lise, who visits every summer during the holidays, but Lise doesn't seem to be coming this year because of problems of her own. Gwen's father has been mostly absent, but comes home from his latest fishing expedition and decides to sell his boat - and livelihood - while her mother gets a job; now she has him to contend with as she tries to maintain a string of boys and grows increasingly frustrated. Perhaps it is Lise she is really in love with, but the film doesn't go there....cut to the friend (Karen Alyx), in wealthier, more comfortable but no less emotionally uncertain circumstances, also faced with a serious parental problem, not able to go away for the summer, but eventually deciding she must.
The first and second parts of Anne-Sophie Birot's debut feature, each focusing on the separate travails of the two protaganists, are pretty good; Gwen and Lise are troubled but fairly typical teenagers, uncertain about sex and their futures, unable to deal with family pressures, kept going by memories of idyllic summers spent together. Le Besco and Alyx, both a few years older than their characters, are both terrific and very convincing, and the rest of the cast, particularly Pascal Elso as Gwen's drunken and potentially abusive (but nonetheless warm and loving - no simpleton characterizations here) father, are quite solid as well. When the two girls finally meet, in a beautifully edited scene that brings together many of the themes (fathers, writing, sexual uncertainty), I really thought this was going to turn into something special. Unfortunately, the anger and tears that occupy much of the late part of the film often seem forced and unrealistic, and they build up to a resolution that is both contrived and unnecessary - not a "Hollywood" ending, exactly, but a deliberate heightening of drama that is probably supposed to come off as very emotional but just seemed stupid to me. We can guess that the girls are going to have problems together, from what we've seen of their separate early-summer days apart - we don't need the over-the-top behavior and deliberate shocks that we're given.
Despite the problematic last act, the film still has plenty of merit in the acting, the feel for the landscape and culture of a sleepy seaside coastal town, and the gorgeous photography (by Nathalie Durand). And for most of it's length, it certainly feels more realistic and compelling than the majority of teen dramas one gets in America. All in all, an ambivalent feeling for me."
An OK film
Daniel G. Lebryk | 10/07/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is a film that I can't decide, did I hate it, or did I love it? Maybe it was just an OK film, nothing special, nothing horrible, mostly forgettable.
Girls Can't Swim is a coming of age film. Gwen is a flighty promiscuous girl. Her friend Lise is the level headed one, the serious one. The two families spent their summer vacation at the same town by the beach (ocean or Mediterranean, no matter). Except this year, Lise stays home, there are problems in Lise's family. The film is set before the era of the cell phone, internet, or the Euro; so the two girls write letters and call eachother occasionally on the phone. Gwen misses Lise, and in her egocentric way keeps trying to convince Lise to be with her. In the meantime, Gwen wastes no time experimenting with the local boys. There's a ton of odd dynamics with the parents. It's clear that Gwen has some deep feeling for Lise, but yet that's not the central point of the film. The film tries to display all the difficulties of two young women growing up, they act like children, then adults, and then children again.
The film has the feeling of a 1980's French film as opposed to the 2000's when it was shot. There aren't many clues that place the film in a particular year. I didn't find the scenery all that gorgeous, it was nice, but nothing spectacular. The setting is more off the beaten path of summer homes on the beach, so the town is a bit tired, the beaches aren't packed full, the houses are a bit run down and small. For me, it had a gritty not so clean feel.
I have seen several Islid Le Besco films, she is an alluring actress that plays Gwen. It might be the role, but I just did not care for her. Gwen is incredibly self centered, playing the infant one moment and the tease the next and then finally the experienced easy female. I just did not care for her character. The actress that played Lise had a bit easier time, she simply had to look sullen most of the time, and she did that well.
The film was easily 20 minutes too long at one hour and forty minutes. Some of the inky dark scenes were very hard to make out. Camera work was fairly generic; there was no dramatic framing to add to the movie. In many respects it felt like the director said, frame them in the center just in case the actors move around, we don't want them moving off camera.
The film is not rated. Most likely this would be an R rated film in the US. Gwen takes off her top a few times, and there are several intimate scenes of her with boys. The nudity and intimate scenes are very natural, and not meant to be obscene in any way. It's possible to find this film categorized in the gay film area; that is nowhere near the point of the film. There is one moment where Lise tries to get close to Gwen; it is a tipping point in the film, and is one of those natural brief moments. Language didn't seem to be a problem. And there is no violence.
I still haven't decided if I liked or disliked this film. "