Don't be fooled by the innocuous appearance of this French, teenage, coming-of-age film. Sure the girls are cute and yes there seems to be a lesbian angle clanking around the edges but really it's a razor-sharp tension filled drama about the perils of insecure youth.
If you watch the trailer for Girls Can't Swim you might assume that the film is about the way that two troubled young women find solace in their friendship – but really it's about the way that young friendships can dissolve into conflict.
The film, directed by Anne-Sophie Birot, is about Gwen and Lise who are best friends. Gwen (Isild le Besco) is a bright-eyed, big breasted, blond 17-year-old living with her mom and dad out by the seaside. She's mostly all smiles and attractive enough to get a good amount of attention from the boys in the neighborhood. Lise (Karen Alyx) is a dour, red-haired tomboy who lives with her mother and three sisters. Her father – who she has never really known – has just died.
Both have trouble at home and both rely on their friendship to get them through hard times. But both are also immature and unable to understand the most basic needs they must give each other in order to attain happiness. Gwen needs her freedom especially in her pursuit of her sexual desires while Lise really needs a good friend (and possibly a father figure) who can understand her troubles. Neither of their parents understands them. And unfortunately they don't really understand each other.
For anyone used to Hollywood's treatment of coming-of-age films this one will be a rude awakening. Although it has a few clichés it also has a strong realistic feel to it and provides no respite from the pain of growing up. Every scene is tension filled and everyone seems pretty miserable. There are no easy answers to seemingly easy problems and because of that the film shows us that trivial concerns can ultimately become very serious ones. The film ends up in a dark place where an ordinary transition (or salvation) from childhood to adulthood will have to wait.
The DVD is presented in 1.66:1. There is nothing significant about the lighting or use of color. Most of it is shot in natural light giving it a non-dramatic look. Scenes go back and forth between darker indoors and ocean-side outdoors. There is some detection of edge enhancement but no compression artifact noticeable.
The audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DS 2.0. There is a lot of dialogue in the film but not much of a soundtrack. There are some ocean noise, which drowns out everything but no doubt this was on purpose. Plus ocean noise is preferable to people yelling at each other.
The only extras are a trailer and short bio write-ups on five of the actors.
Girls can't swim but they sure can sulk, bitch, cry, scream and cause trouble. At least that seems to be a good part of this film's message. Nonetheless Girls Can't Swim is a tough coming-of-age French film. It starts casually enough with the best friends finding solace in each other but it never lets up its argumentative atmosphere and eventually veers off into darker territory. The best that can be said about this film is that it is well acted and it isn't very predictable, which is good enough to recommend it with some reservations.