(aka "Girls Can't Swim" )


directed by Anne-Sophie Birot
France 2000


Two childhood friends find themselves at the outskirts of womanhood one summer where everything seems to be changing, including the nature of their friendship. Gwen lives in the Brittany Coast and Lise gets to visit on summer vacations. The very fact of this distance, where letters and phone calls are the chief mode of interaction, gives the relationship a privileged otherly quality, a heightened intimacy. As such, the act of writing to each other takes on a journal-like quality, and the arrival of such correspondence provides a fantastical break from daily life.

In each case, their lives are marked by the absence of their fathers to differing degrees. In Lise’s house, the father has been gone many years, having left when Lise was too young to remember him, but their own paternal resemblances—Lise and her sisters—and his mother who has remained in their lives, underscore his very absence. In Gwen’s case, her father is a fisherman and is predominantly away from home. While Gwen is becoming more aware of the marital discord and her father’s drunkenness, Lise is surrounded by subtle remnants of abuse, evidenced through her sisters and unanswered questions about her father.

Girls Can’t Swim is the sort of movie where one might easily walk away unfulfilled. In certain respects, the coming of age aspects of the narrative are incidental to a larger discourse of familial breakdown where cycles of resistance and partial recoveries play out. In other words, to employ genre-like reductionism is to prematurely close off substantial narrative terrain, crippling the film’s underlying operation and coherency.

It is significant and necessary for Lise not to actually appear in the film until the middle third, after hearing about her indirectly and gauging her importance. The shift is a bit jarring, but this is advantageous and reflects certain aspects of reunion after extended separation between two who have remained in long-distance contact. That is, distortions arise and memory is unconsciously revised. In the case of Gwen and Lise, they each serve as a sort of imaginary friend for the other, an avenue of escape from their particular circumstances. A great deal is not shared between these “close” friends, leaving much room for surprise and misconception.

Some strong acting is turned in by a fine cast. Isild Le Besco, who plays the leading Gwen, displays a great dynamic range of expression, capturing the nuances of conflict and childlike bliss. Karen Alyx, playing Lise, Pascal Elso playing Gwen’s father, and Marie Riviere playing the mother of Lise all provide stellar support. At the Bordeaux International Festival of Women in Cinema, Pascal Elso took home honors for Best Actor, and Isild Le Besco and Karen Alyx shared Best Actress. At the Newport International Film Festival, first-time director Anne-Sophie Birot received Honorable Mention in the Feature Film Competition. I give it
out of     

Fred Patton

Theatrical Release: 4 September 2000 (Montréal Film Festival)

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DVD Review: Wellspring Media (None) - Region 0 - NTSC

Big thanks to Fred Patton for the Review!

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Wellspring Media

Region 0 - NTSC

Runtime 1:37:21

1.66:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.66 mb/s
NTSC 704x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.



Audio French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles English (removable)
Features Release Information:
Studio: Wellspring Media

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.66:1

Edition Details:
• Theatrical Trailer
• Home Video Trailer
• Talent Bios
• Web Links

DVD Release Date: August 12, 2003
Keep Case

Chapters 16


The transfer is anamorphic, however, it lacks a great deal of sharpness. I found it passable. The removable subtitles are 16X9 friendly and not too intrusive onto the image. It is not excessively sharp, but rather typical for a Wellspring release. The Extras include some trailers and 'talent bio text' screens. out of

 - Fred Patton



Recommended Reading in French Cinema (CLICK COVERS or TITLES for more information)


The Films in My Life
by Francois Truffaut, Leonard Mayhew

French Cinema: A Student's Guide
by Philip Powrie, Keith Reader
Agnes Varda by Alison Smith Godard on Godard : Critical Writings by Jean-Luc Godard Notes on the Cinematographer by Robert Bresson Robert Bresson (Cinematheque Ontario Monographs, No. 2)
by James Quandt
The Art of Cinema by Jean Cocteau French New Wave
by Jean Douchet, Robert Bonnono, Cedric Anger, Robert Bononno
French Cinema: From Its Beginnings to the Present
by Remi Fournier Lanzoni
Truffaut: A Biography by Antoine do Baecque and Serge Toubiana



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Region 0 - NTSC


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