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
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
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).