When the Sea Rises is a small film with small goals, depicting a parochial French sub-culture of traveling entertainers and their audiences. In its choices of style and subject, it comes from a different, more working-class tradition than what we tend to associate with French films. It's not cosmopolitan; there's no trace of the sophisticates of the New Wave and their inheritors. This is Cleo, from 9 to 5 - but the downshift in cultural atmosphere doesn't prove to be as refreshing a change as you might hope. Adapted from the act of French comedienne Yolande Moreau, the film often meanders into territory so provincial that it may prove mystifying to non-French audiences. One half is a standard girl-meets-boy romance, centered around Moreau's character, Irene, an awkward performance artist who can barely communicate when not on stage. The other half is a reel of cuts from her improvisational, commedia dell'arte stand-up routine. She stands alone on stage in a face mask, displaying bloodstained (painted) arms. She shoots water pistols at the crowd. She dodges hurled shoes. She tells a tale - usually begun in media res - about a "crime" she committed against an anonymous lover. To enjoy all of this film on its own level, without any knowledge of the French language or French culture, might be difficult.