Eglė Davidavičė “The One Who Knows,” an intimate ode to girlhood

WordsEmma Firth

Growing up as a girl is a bittersweet experience. In Lithuanian director Eglė Davidavičė’s short film “The One Who Knows,” we see behind the curtain of that fragile time. Writer Emma Firth speaks to Davidavičė and her collaborator, artist Marine Buffard, to learn how they used animation to capture the pain and glory of girlhood.

A still from an animated film showing three female swimmers, seen in a medium shot from head to waist, wearing matching suits, caps and goggles. The swimmer in the center gazes at the viewer, arms crossed.

There’s a kind of grief that occurs, as a woman, watching a girl grow up. It comes when you recognize those familiar early seeds of self-consciousness. It is there when you see that their body has stopped being a home to exist within and has become an object, separate from the self. It is there to be corrected, assessed in comparison to others. This period of transformation is one of the more punishing payoffs of coming-of-age. 

For those who suffered through the growing pains of girlhood, often they will carry with them different versions of the same story. It might have been gazing at their reflections in a shop mirror, or an undercurrent of shame getting dressed in a school changing room, or inspecting dimpled thighs on a sandy beach. Director Eglė Davidavičė’s tender and transformative animated short film, “The One Who Knows,” soundlessly told through the lens of young teenager Ūla, is set in a swimming pool. A vision of a girl came to Eglė while she was daydreaming on a bus. She herself had loved to swim but was initially overcome with a crippling anxiety over her body image; an unease intensified in a pool of “super beautiful and athletic” figures around her moving in synchronicity.

“I’m always inspired by personal experience,” Davidavičė says softly from her home in Lithuania. “I really wanted to capture this experience of my life, where I was thinking a lot about my body, what I look like, if I am beautiful or not? I am a pretty average body type, but I didn’t see myself that way [back then].”

The title itself was inspired by a story in Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ early 90s feminist classic, “Women Who Run With The Wolves.” “It’s about this older woman who has this knowledge and power and strength,” Davidavičė explains, “the idea that this woman, ‘the one who knows’, lives in all of us.” The collaboration with Parisian visual artist and animator Marine Buffard—who worked as an illustrator and art director on the project—was a lovely twist of fate and fandom. A case for feeling the fear, sliding into the Instagram DMs anyway. “I really loved how she combined the softness of those blurred effects with sharp thin lines and how she played with color,” Davidavičė says. Having followed Buffard’s work for years, she sent her a message, and got a reply within a few hours.

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“The idea that the film should be blue came to me very intuitively,” Davidavičė recalls. The color was needed to convey “almost intangible things like the ocean or the sky” while simultaneously containing a feeling of “melancholy, anxiety [and] sadness floating in the main character’s inner world.” 

Buffard, unsurprisingly when you look through her archive—vibrant animated scenes bursting with a kaleidoscope of color, from flowers and clothes to a couple kissing—took a little persuading at first. “I tried several palettes but chose one which is close to cobalt blue,” she says, reaching for a baseball cap nearby in a similar shade. “I like that it offers a good contrast to ensure readability but that it’s not too dull. It has this energetic aspect that balances the softness of the fine line.”

A still from an animated film, showing a teenage girl in her swimsuit, standing in a toilet cabin with a towel over her shoulder, listening to something behind the door.

The final product has this fluid, almost hypnotic quality. The creative process, however, was painstakingly detailed. Time-consuming. Filled with prototypes and refining. “I drew roughly 1,200 drawings for the film, on and off over the course of a year,” Buffard says. “There was a lot of architecture, décor and water, which took longer than expected. I usually draw with pencil, but for [the] animation we drew on a tablet with a digital pencil brush which emulates the one I use traditionally. It’s faster and easier, especially when having to work with other animators: they need to be able to replicate the exact style that we defined.” She avoids overly technical descriptors of her designs. “I tried to draw in a style that would evoke your senses…between a dream and memory.”

According to Davidavičė, animation in general is “therapeutic” work. “It takes so long to make it and [you’re] drawing almost the same drawings again and again.” Buffard’s illustrations were beautifully brought to life with the support of five animators, led by Vykintas Labanauskas (working with TVpaint for animating and AfterEffects to create the steam in the sauna or water rippling in the character’s fantasyscape in the final frames). “We discussed every shot together,” Davidavičė says. “A knowledge of anatomy and the ability to control proportions was important, given that the style of the film was realistic and there were a lot of naked bodies.” In other words, Davidavičė says, there was nowhere to hide.

The film may be born from a place of sadness and self-scrutiny but its final scenes are positively hopeful, uplifted when Ūla starts to feel more at peace with herself, her body, beginning to question the internal programming telling her there is a beauty standard to uphold. What is your wish for people to feel watching “The One Who Knows”? I ask Davidavičė. She smiles: “I wanted this film to feel like a hug.”