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Swimming Pool (R)
Focus Features
Official Site
Director: François Ozon
Producers: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Written by: François Ozon, Emmanuèle Bernheim
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance

Rating: out of 5

I’ve never been a very big fan of French films. I get the impression that the culture portrayed is what the producers and writers want me to believe typical French life is, but the indulgence of raw sex and hard living that’s showcased in so many French films makes me quite skeptical about the authenticity of what I’m watching. All right, I’ll just come out and say it… I’m calling out French films as frauds. It just seems like they’re trying to convince you that this is French living in its purest form. I rather doubt it. After all, as the old saying goes, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t make French films about it.” The good news this time around, is that Swimming Pool is one French film that, at least somewhat, spares me the charade.

This French film (somewhat ironically) is about an English woman. Sarah Morton (Rampling) is an aging fictional crime author whose “Dorwell” stories are all the rage in England. Everyone, including her publisher John (Dance) is quite pleased with her novels, but Sarah is searching for something more. She’s become a shrewd and cynical woman with a bleak outlook. When her publisher convinces her to take a trip to the south of France and stay at his chateau for some quiet inspiration she reluctantly accepts. When she arrives all is well. Sarah is treated to a beautiful swimming pool, a spacious house, a quaint village up the road, and no distractions. Work on her next novel is coming along nicely until John’s daughter Julie (Sagnier) unexpectedly shows up. Julie quickly becomes a thorn in Sarah’s side, with her crude behavior and blatant sexuality. The two butt heads initially, but seem to reconcile over the backyard swimming pool just in time to depend on each other when the dark, murderous world of Sarah’s novels becomes an unexpected reality for them both.

This film had two big things working for it. The first is Miss Ludivine Sagnier (Water Drops On Burning Rocks, 8 Women). This actress is H-O-T, hot, and her role as a sexpot of the highest order, bringing home a different guy every night, is terrific. She possesses just the right amount of European mystique to melt this poor, American boy and the sexuality she oozes would make Mae West blush. I was about ready to abandon ship right around the time her character was finally introduced—not a moment too soon. She brings a real shot of life to this movie when it begins to drag and rounds out the cast well. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s nude for about two-thirds of the film.

The other thing that works for Swimming Pool is director François Ozon. Though I’ve yet to see his other acclaimed film, 8 Women, I might be ready to say he is my new favorite French director. The best thing about him is that he can direct a film without unnecessarily long, single shots fixed on nothing in an attempt to squeeze out deeper meaning. Thank you, Monsieur Ozon. I’m not sure why this technique has become a staple of French cinema, but I’m glad he’s willing to stray.

Upon further hours of pondering Swimming Pool, I’m somewhat tempted to dub Ozon France’s answer to M. Night Shyamalan. It wasn’t terribly obvious during my initial viewing, but there are a lot of similarities between these two directors. Swimming Pool isn’t eerie like a Shyamalan film, but the creative way they both creep up on a hidden meaning or purpose is undeniable. Look for a lot of symbolism in just about every shot, allegorical references in each character, and a surprise, twist ending.

Speaking of which, I feel I must at least address the ending of this film for the benefit of the viewer. There is indeed a surprise ending that will make you re-trace everything you’ve just seen and possibly re-interpret the entire film. I was ready for something weird by the time the ending rolled around because there were just too many strange things floating around in this plot, but this particular ending didn’t really do it for me. It seemed unnecessarily convoluted and difficult to process. It seems that it can be interpreted several ways, which isn’t necessarily bad, but for me it left a lot of doubt about what I just saw. Perhaps Ozon just hit a home run though, because it has made me anxious to see it again and re-examine everything a little more closely.

Bottom line: Even though I don’t possess a fondness for French cinema, Swimming Pool wrapped me up tight in interesting characters and a clever plot that kept my interest peaked. (The girl also helped).

—Corey Herrick


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