The Austin Chronicle

Swimming Pool

Rated R, 102 min. Directed by François Ozon. Starring Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance, Marc Fayolle, Jean-Marie Lamour.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 18, 2003

It’s difficult to gauge what George W. might think of Ozon’s film, but I’m having fun trying nevertheless. On the one hand, it’s a mystery, a genre W. seems endlessly attracted to, although the conundrum in question has less to do with missing WMDs than missing personalities. On the other hand, both legendary actress Charlotte Rampling and relative newcomer Ludivine Sagnier spend much of the film lolling around the titular pool in varying states of undress – surely the fraternity pledge that still dwells within the president could get a handle on this aspect of the film. Then again, the whole affair takes place in France, and we all know how he feels about the French. But wait – Rampling’s character is English, and there’s that whole Blair/lap-dog thing to consider, as well. But no, she’s a writer! He hates books, doesn’t he? Merde! See what fun this is? Filmgoers with a slightly less petulant attitude toward all things French, and especially those who recall Rampling from her earlier masterstrokes like The Night Porter and Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, however, will discover a glittering gem at the bottom of this particular body of water. Rampling is Sarah Morton, a middle-aged writer of mystery novels in the vein of Jessica Fletcher (or, more likely, P.D. James) who stalks into her editor’s (Dance) office one afternoon and announces that she’s sick of writing bestselling whodunits and needs a break. When he offers her the use of his remote house in southern France to relax in over the summer, she accepts, and the film shifts from London to Luberon, leaving behind the bustle and overcast skies for something akin to tranquil perfection. The house, surrounded by trees and set back from the road, is more like a cottage than a summer retreat, complete with whispering oaks and a well-stocked collection of decent wines. Checking in with her editor by phone, Sarah declares it "wonderful." That is, until the editor’s teenage daughter Julie (Sagnier) arrives one evening, unannounced and unexpected, and immediately embarks on a swinging summer free-for-all of nude sunbathing followed by a few joints, with a series of noisy, late-night lovemaking episodes with local ne’er-do-wells. Sarah, who during the daylight hours is contemplating a new, nonmystery novel, finds it all too much to bear at first, but slowly the unlikely pair become friends, with Rampling’s writer allowing herself to drop a few of her oh-so-British reserves and take at least tentative part in the action at hand. And then, just when things seem to be going fairly well, someone gets killed. Or do they? Ozon’s film is like Eric Rohmer meets Brian DePalma – questions of identity and perception come to the fore, but slowly. Swimming Pool unfolds with delicious slowness, revealing itself subtley like one of those strange night-blooming flowers, redolent of mystery and sex and heat. Rampling is at the top of her game here; watching God knows how many years of ice slough off from Sarah’s chilly exterior is a wonder. Likewise Sagnier, whose overripe sexuality and lithe, sun-bronzed form play a delirious counterpoint to Rampling’s initially staid Sarah. For American audiences, Swimming Pool is as atypical a summer film as they come – no explosions, no car chases, no Arnold – but immensely more pleasing than films with all three of those summertime staples. A July release with looks and brains – oh, those wily French!

Copyright © 2024 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.