A very impressive feature debut by young director Anne-Sophie Birot, Girls Can’t Swim is a neatly drawn tale of teenage female friendship in which raging hormones send out scrambled messages. In an excellent performance, Isild Le Besco plays Gwen, a 15-year-old growing up in a French coastal town where her open-minded parents give her free reign. Gwen has already developed a keen appreciation for the opposite sex, and while she’s initially upset when she learns that her close friend Lise (Karen Alyx) will not come with her family from Paris to spend summer at the beach, she takes the news in her stride and pays little mind to her friend’s misfortunes. Needing to get away from her home, Lise eventually takes a train to the coast and pays Gwen a visit, but she soon discovers that her friend is more interested in the local boys. Matters come to a head when Gwen senses that Lise’s interest in her may be growing beyond simple friendship.
Although it’s another coming-of-age tale, Birot’s film is distinguished by its device of keeping its central protagonists apart for much of the time. The natural, unforced direction subtly changes gear as it switches between the girls’ homes, while the script (by Birot and Christophe Honore) sensibly avoids spelling out Lise’s lesbian tendencies. In other respects too, there’s much more going on beneath the surface in this ostensibly modest and beautifully observed dramatic comedy. France, 2000. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 101 min.