SWIMMING POOL(director/writer: François Ozon; screenwriter: Emmanuèle Bernheim; cinematographer: Yorick Le Saux; editor: Monica Coleman; music: Philippe Rombi; cast: Charlotte Rampling (Sarah Morton), Ludivine Sagnier (Julie), Charles Dance (John Bosload), Marc Fayolle (Marcel), Jean-Marie Lamour (Franck), Sebastian Harcombe (Terry Long); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Olivier Delbosc/Marc Missonnier; Focus Features; 2003/France-in English, some French with English subtitles)
“Ozon takes us for a dip into a swimming pool that is as tempting as it is out of reach for those who prefer diving into deeper water.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
France’s inventive writer/director François Ozon, in his first English language film, reunites with his two leading ladies, Charlotte Rampling (“Under The Sand”) and Ludivine Sagnier (“Water Drops on Burning Rocks”/”8 Women”). Ozon takes us for a dip into a swimming pool that is as tempting as it is out of reach for those who prefer diving into deeper water. The film is a taut psychological thriller with sexual trappings that revisits the mysterious intrigue that infused his esteemed Under The Sand. But it strays from its course after an engrossing first half and wanders off into the far reaches of metaphysical territory, as it blurs reality and fantasy. It too cutely ends allowing the viewer to chose what is real or not, without giving a worthwhile reason to accept or care about either choice.
It’s beautifully filmed in shimmering colors in the idyllic south of France’s Lubéron region where the aging spinsterish Sarah Morton (Rampling), an irascible best-selling British whodunit novelist of light fare for the matronly types, follows the suggestion of her slippery publisher John Bosload and goes for a change of scenery to his country retreat to recharge her creative batteries. In this paradise, the prim author relaxes in the peace and quiet of the off-season and in the natural beauty of her surroundings (at this point it seems like an Eric Rohmer film). She has left her elderly father back in her London flat, and this once swinger back in her younger days now only lets herself go by drinking. Sarah’s most adventurous trek is to the nearby cafe, where she represses her sexual desires for the manly waiter Franck. But her regimen and solitude is interrupted by an unexpected visit by John’s promiscuous and vulgar French daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier). Sarah is upset by Julie’s shameless sexually charged lifestyle, where every night she recklessly takes home an unsavory lover and keeps the big house hopping with loud music and the grunts from her sexual encounters. During the day, Julie provocatively flaunts her sex by walking around bare-chested and treating the author with disrespect and by alluringly swimming naked in the dirty pool. Her naked swims both excite and disturb the author, as the author identifies with the sexuality of the blonde youth as if she were a character in her new book.
Their hostile relationship brings about a number of increasingly jarring occurrences, as Sarah’s fertile imagination and a possible real-life murder are woven dangerously together as she forms an uneasy bond with Julie. These supposed events return Julie to an almost child-like state of innocence and with a new sense of introspection while Sarah also changes her disdainful state of being and her appearance becomes more feminine, as she disrobes and shows flashes of her sensuous and perverse nature.
The film’s best asset was Rampling’s unnerving performance as an elusive and unbearable character, who walks through life in a sexually repressed dreamlike trance between reality and fantasy. Ozon and his regular collaborator Emmanuèle Bernheim didn’t seem to know how to connect Rampling’s complex mental state with a story that seemed more of a plot device than one that opens up new psychological vistas. Instead of continuing to walk on the wild side and remain ambivalent, Ozon chooses to take the safe commercial course and tie the film up with his preconceived notions of what he was trying to say about the creative process and identity and the psychological state of the mystery writer and the swimming pool as a metaphor about being confined. It had a frozen artificiality that undermined the hard-edged mood it so assiduously set for most of the film, and almost undid Rampling’s unsettling performance. The story easily fades in importance by the conclusion and what lingers is the mischievous joke that Ozon has played on the viewer. That’s not bad in itself, but I believe this talented director is capable of bringing more to the table.
REVIEWED ON 7/19/2003 GRADE: B –
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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