Swimming Pool (2003) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, some violence and drug use
Running Time: 103 min.

Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance, Jean-Marie Lamour, Marc Fayolle,
Director: Francois Ozon

Screenplay: Francois Ozon, Emmanuelle Bernheim
Review published April 15, 2004

Francois Ozon (Sitcom) toys once again with conventional genres of cinema, only this time, he crafts a mostly conventional crime drama himself -- but with a few nifty twists.  It's really two stories in one, the first being the quiet, contemplative drama involving the struggle for sexual freedom of a conservative author jealous of the sultry young visitor she is forced to share living space with.  The second half of the film falls more into the psychological thriller genre, and with some ingenious interwoven themes, Ozon is able to combine the two stories into a cohesive but esoteric union.  It's a slow moving piece much of the way, but for those who enjoy Ozon's penchant for tweaking the mundane, it has a depth to it that is deceptive at first glance.

Charlotte Rampling (Stardust Memories, The Verdict) stars as Sarah Morton, a best-selling author of a series of murder mystery novels, who takes up her publisher's offer to stay in his lavish home in France while she draws up inspiration for her next book.  She finds the atmosphere relaxing, but lonely, until the publisher's daughter Julie (Sagnier, 8 Women) arrives to stay for a while, causing many disruptions in Sarah's ability to concentrate on her writing.  The two opposites clash repeatedly, until one day they are forced together in a set of circumstances that closely resembles the kind of subject matter that Morton typically puts in her book.

There isn't anything new that Swimming Pool delivers that hasn't been done before, playing in the same creative pool as neo-Hitchcockian auteurs have frequently done, with fine lines drawn between fiction and fact that is summed up in an ending of irony that leaves you unsettled as to what was going on all along.  Many have tried, but few have succeeded in delivering the goods in a way that ties in to the main themes of the story, and Ozon's method definitely feels like far more than a gimmick.  In many ways, it's a less artsy rendition of the process of getting out from under writers block that the Coens explored in Barton Fink, only with a much more realistic narrative plot employed.

Swimming Pool is the sort of film that could only work when filled with talented people, and with its quality cast on-screen and the inventive minds behind the camera, it's very much the thinking person's mystery-drama.  With far more subtle themes of generational sexuality, the differences between French and British sensibilities, and a feminist undertone throughout, there's far more than meets the eye here for those in tune with the subtle complexities.  In many ways, it might actually be too subtle for audiences expecting an edge-of-your-seat thriller, who may not think anything much is going on save some titillating scenes of sex for the first hour.   There are those who would have dived right into this material, but Ozon enters his Swimming Pool slowly, and in his own quiet way makes just as big a splash.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo