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France 2003
Directed by
Francois Ozon
98 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Swimming Pool

Synopsis: Sarah (Charlotte Rampling) is spinsterish yet successful English mystery writer. Sarah's personal life and new novel take a dramatic twist when on a holiday in France she meets her publisher's sexy, free-spirited daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier).

François Ozon is rapidly establishing himself as one of France’s most interesting young directors. Highly prolific, with 7 features in 6 years, his films are diverse, offbeat and intelligent without being abstruse or self-consciously arty. His last film, 8 Women garnered him a relatively wide audience and a love-it-or-hate-it spread of reactions. Whichever camp you fell into, Swimming Pool is not necessarily good news.

A considerable shift in style from the theatricality of 8 Women, much of it is concerned with the dynamic between Charlotte Rampling’s repressed, post-menopausal and very English crime novelist (think Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith et. al.) and her publisher’s daughter, the slatternly provocative Julie, as they unintentionally and unwillingly share a holiday house. The enforced co-habitation is a useful device to keep the two protagonists locked in battle and heading to what one assumes will be an inevitable rapprochement. Much of this is handled with a detached, observational manner familiar from the films of Eric Rohmer, whose favourite subjects are the everyday psychological games of the well-heeled bourgeoisie. Then, in the last half-hour or so this relatively uninteresting back-and-forth hots up with some Chabrolian action and a dead body in a wheelbarrow. Still nothing here to raise matters above the ho-hum. But as we are packing up to go home comes a remarkable twist that completely re-frames the narrative. Whilst there is an undoubted frisson of delight stemming from the cleverness of the device, more importantly, this radical shift in context gives new depth of meaning to what has gone before, which now no longer appears so banal. After all, not losing his love of artifice, Ozon has cleverly pulled the wool over our eyes.

Beyond Ozon's script, credit for the deception must go to Charlotte Rampling, who has previously worked with the director in Under The Sand and who is quite wonderful as the fiercely independent Sarah. Played just as a crabby old maid she would have done quite well but during the course of the film she subtley reveals the playfulness buried beneath the crust of her character’s time-hardened exterior. Ludivine Sagnier’s character I found somewhat over-stated but given its real status as ultimately revealed in the film it makes more sense.

To approach a film in the way that Ozon has and not give the audience familiarly easy pleasures is a commendable move. The film has been successful by art-house standards in both Europe and the U.S. I can only hope it gets equal recognition here.




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