Behind The Scenes Water Lillies

From the team that brought the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy to the big screen, Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films present Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Time, an epic action-adventure set in the mystical lands of Persia. A rogue prince reluctantly joins forces with a mysterious princess and together, they race against dark forces to safeguard an ancient dagger capable of releasing the Sands of Time-a gift from the gods that can reverse time and allow its possessor to rule the world.

When Celine Sciamma unveiled her debut feature as a director at Cannes, she greeted the press by quipping, “Hey, I’m gay!”, going on to point out that she resented “the people who are gay, who could say it, and they don’t”.
Not that anyone who saw her semi-autobiographical tale of a female lust between two 15-year olds in a Paris suburb of the early 1980s could have been in much doubt. Not that Water Lilies is some kind of blue-tinted schoolgirl-on-schoolgirl fantasy outing. Sciamma was at pains to get away from such B-movie nonsense, and explore instead that blinding, blissful, bewildering time in everyone’s life – adolescence. Having studied at La Fermis, and with a Maitrise of French Literature, the 29-year old Sciamma’s gameplan was to become an acclaimed and feted screenwriter. But one of her teachers convinced her to take a completed screenplay, The Birth Of Octupuses, and make it into a feature film. Much to Sciamma’s shock, the financing came quickly. And, within months, she was directing her feature film debut.

Q: So, how autobiographical is Water Lilies?
A: Well, everything is real, but nothing is true. Those feelings, the awkward moments, all this angst around teenagehood, that’s something I’ve been through – most people have – and I always picture the movie as an autobiographical movie for a lot of people, I hope. There are a lot of things which are fact though – the town of Cergy in the movie is my hometown. Still, I didn’t pick it because I live there. I didn’t want to bring back memories, I just knew the town very well, and it has always fascinated me, visually, and I felt it was a place that seemed fictional. There are points in the film too that are true, such as when we open on the 15-year old girl attending a synchronized swimming show, and being entranced. That happened to me. I was totally freaked out [laughs], so, that is really a memory. But, as I say, everything is true, but nothing is real.

Q:Variety said that of your film, ‘Painfully spot-on essence of teen angst meets the spirt of Esther Williams’, with others also pointing out Water Lilies’ strength in capturing the uncertainty of teenage lust. I’m not sure we ever truly move on from that state of mind…
Q: Absolutely. That stage of your life becomes the matrix for everything that’s coming. Those feelings, they are never memories, they are always very vivid, and I wanted to make the movie remembering that feeling. I didn’t want some nostalgic glow, I wanted the audience to be present in the feeling, the cruelty of it, and to be 15 years old again.

Q: Is this the film you wrote, or is it an ever-evolving work for you?
I don’t think there’s anything that I would change now, but, I’m sure, when I’m older, I’ll feel differently about certain decisions. When I’m wiser. But, right now, it’s the movie that I wanted to make. Now that it’s out there, and it’s having an impact on audiences, more than the awards and the prizes, that’s what makes me feel I made the film I wanted to make.

Q:How difficult was it, going from that original script to actually being on set?
A:Actually, it was really easy. At first, I didn’t want to be a director, I wanted to be a screenwriter, but others said I should take this to the big screen. And the producers said we weren’t going to go the usual short film route; I was to jump right in with a feature. I said yes, thinking it would take years to get the money together, but the money came in three months…  Eight months after, I had to do this. So, I didn’t have time to ask myself question about what I wanted to do as a director, whether or not I actually wanted to be a director, stuff like that. I had to be very pragmatic about it, and so, I think I was very lucky. If I had had to struggle to make the movie, and had lots of times to think about making the movie, I would have ended up asking myself all the wrong questions.

Q:That fine line between erotic and pornagraphic – was that tough?

A: Yes, I always had that in mind. As I was writing this, I wanted to be inside the minds and the bodies of the girls, but I didn’t want this to be any kind of fantasy movie. I just wanted to understand completely the girls’ feelings. I wanted to get as far away as possible from the fantasy of young girls in their cotton underwear, and so, it was really when I was directing the movie, I was always asking myself how far away the camera should be, so it wouldn’t be some kind of pervert inside look. It was really difficult, but once I found it in each scene, I was able to keep it simple. It was important to keep clear of titillation. That would be the opposite of the story I was trying to tell.

Q:The three main girls are stunning in their roles. Difficult to find?
A:We searched a lot. We put ads in magazines, young women who had already acted, but no one’s really professional at that age. It took three or four months to gather them all, going to high schools and supermarkets. Pauline Acquart, the leading part, we found literally wandering around a public garden, and Adele Haenel, the blonde girl, she had already been in a movie as a child. And Louise Blachere, the chubby girl, we found her through the post. She sent in photos, and she looked the part. I had Pauline and Adele after a month, but I didn’t have the third one. We always felt that the thing that would stop us making the movie was if we didn’t have the right casting. Three weeks before shooting, we hadn’t got Louise, so, I was going crazy.

Q:For a debut feature, Water Lilies is amazing assured. Too busy to look down?
A: Yeah, I was terrified at the time. I didn’t have the time to ask those questions about legitimate at not. It was mostly at night, between me, myself and I, when I would have time to think about it, and that was a good thing. I had been on sets as assistant directors and a screenwriter, and it was never a place that I liked. When I first got on set, the surprise for me was how pleasurable it was.

Q:Are you keen to direct again?
A:I definitely like directing, and I want to direct more, but it still has to go through the writing stage, for other directors too, because I really enjoy that collaboration. Eventually, I’ll end up writing something for myself.

Q:What about Hollywood? You’re a young European filmmaker who’s won awards; they’ll no doubt be offering the new Jessica Alba comedy any day now…
A:I don’t know. It’s really a fantasy, but it would be hard to resits. Depends on the script and everything, but it’s something that would be really tempting. There are many great movies that have come out of Hollywood, and I grew up on many of them, so, why not?

Q:Has the success of Water Lilies impacted on your life much?
A:Well, the thing is, I haven’t stopped working on this movie for about two years. A week after it was completed, I was in Cannes with it, and I’ve been on the road with it ever since. My life has definitely changed, and I really don’t know what it will be like without this companionship.

Q:After your year-long lap of victory, you’ll get home to an empty flat, with no room service, or PR people telling you how well your film’s doing. Bracing yourself?
A:It’s really scary. I’m already in the process of working on my next projects, because it’s definitely scary, what you talk about. I have plans with another director, and that is something that will hopefully keep me sane. I think when good things happen in French cinema, it’s always part of a generation of filmmakers. And I want to be part of a generation. I don’t want to be one of those lone maverick filmmakers.

Q:Are you wary of now being seen as pigeon-holed as being part of gay cinema? Have you found that happening?
A:Well, it really depends on the country. In France, no one ever asks me the question, whereas in London, they wouldn’t ask the question outright, but they really wanted to know. In Cannes, the Americans and Germans were asking me straight up. So, I know that it is an issue for some, and I’m not uncomfortable with one ideology or another. It depends on whehter it’s relevant or not.

Q:Do you feel you have to make a decision now about your private life being public?
A:When I talk about the movie, I only want to talk about that. When people talk about me as some kind of spokesperson, that’s different, because you want to make your voice heard. But when people say, oh, this is a movie about a gay girl – she must be gay. That, I feel, isn’t very relevant… It’s kind of messy, what I’m saying. Jodie Foster can’t declare her sexuality, because it affects how people perceive her on screen, but as a filmmaker, I think it narrows peoples perception about what sort of films you make. As a citizen or an artist, that I’m really okay with. In the process of promoting the movie, I was really trying to avoid that tag. It’s everywhere on the internet though, so, everybody knows.

Words : Paul Byrne

Water Lilies/Naissance des pieuvres hits Irish cinemas April 18th