Charlotte Rampling as Sarah Morton
Ludivine Sagnier as Julie
Charles Dance as John Bosload
Marc Fayolle as Marcel
Jean-Marie Lamour as Franck
Mireille Mossé as Marcel’s daughter
Sarah Morton, a repressed British mystery writer (Rampling) is invited to spend time at her publisher’s house in the French countryside to help get her out of the writing rut into which she’s fallen. Shortly after arriving, her little piece of paradise is disturbed by the arrival of the publisher’s bratty sexpot daughter, Julie (Sagnier), and it quickly becomes obvious that their differences in age and philosophy will prevent them from getting along. This doesn’t stop the intriguing Julie from becoming both subject and muse for the older writer.
Once again, director Francois Ozon has gone off in a completely different direction from his previous movie, the musical murder mystery 8 Women. This time, he narrows the focus down to only two women, both actresses that he has worked with in the past. Veteran Brit actress Charlotte Rampling gives an amazing performance, especially when handling some rather uncomfortable situations, and she really shines throughout the film. Dressed in some of the trashiest outfits imaginable-that is, when she’s wearing clothes at all- Ludivine Sagnier, Ozon’s favorite ingenue, destroys the squeaky-clean innocent teen image that they’ve developed in their previous films together. She plays her part a bit like Alicia Silverstone in The Crush, acting very sexy and provocative for a girl her age and pretty much seducing every man who visits the house. For better or worse, Sagnier is not quite as believable as the bad girl and her English is not strong enough to get her lines across in an effective way.
On the other hand, the tension between the two actresses is excellent as Ozon develops their relationship in a way not unlike the recent French drama, Man on the Train. The most intriguing aspect of the film is watching the creepy relationship build between the two women as the movie progresses, and the mind games they play with each other carries most of the film. It also allows Rampling’s character to evolve from being highly judgmental of Julie’s lifestyle to becoming more tolerant of it.
There’s a subdued quality to this movie that hasn’t been seen in Ozon’s past work, particularly noticeable due to the lack of music in the first half, yet his stunning visuals still manage to set a beautiful mood for the story. In some ways, this might be one of Ozon’s most extravagant films yet, as he breaks away from his usual indoor sets to show the beautiful French countryside and take advantage of the outdoor setting. Because of this, there’s more realism to Swimming Pool than any of Ozon’s past works, which always had the limitation of looking like filmed stage plays.
What Didn’t Work:
It takes a long time for Ozon to get the story moving forward after spending a lot of the movie introducing the two main characters. When the movie finally starts to show signs of a plot, it goes in a fairly obvious and predictable direction with few to no surprises. Ozon does add a few David Lynchian moments in the second half, but the ultimate twist ending leaves far too many questions about what really happened at that chateau in France. It ends up being more frustrating than intriguing.
While usually, I wouldn’t complain about being able to see as much of Miss Sagnier as possible, her excessive nudity actually gets distracting at times, and not necessarily in a good way. (It reminds me of the “Seinfeld” sketch about “bad nudity”.) She spends most of the movie wearing next-to-nothing, and while it makes sense to show the narcissistic freedom of her character, it goes a bit overboard at times. Based on Ozon’s past films and his keen eye for visuals, I would have expected him to handle her many sex scenes with a bit more taste, but they’re handled with the subtlety of porn. I guess he assumed that being a French film, it would be deemed as “art”.
Anyone expecting a movie completely in English might be a bit thrown off by the amount of subtitled French dialogue. Hence, the claim that this is Ozon’s first English-language film is a bit deceiving.
The Bottom Line:
While Swimming Pool is a decent erotic thriller, it doesn’t offer much new ground to set it apart from similar thrillers dating back to Hitchcock’s finer works. Because a number of the plot twists are too predictable, it pales in comparison to other recent indie thrillers such as last year’s Read My Lips and 2001’s The Deep End. Even so, Ozon continues to prove his talent for diverse filmmaking. His distinctive vision, as well as the performances by the two actresses, makes this a worthwhile movie experience.
Swimming Pool is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. It will open in other cities across the country in the next few weeks.