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With: Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance
Written by: Francois Ozon, Emmanuele Bernheim
Directed by: Francois Ozon
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, some violence and drug use
Language: English, French with English subtitles
Running Time: 103
Date: 05/18/2003

Swimming Pool (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Current Affairs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With his new film Swimming Pool, director Francois Ozon hasbacktracked slightly for the first time in his career. Not only has here-enlisted screenwriter Emmanuele Bernheim and star Charlotte Ramplingfrom his acclaimed 2001 hit Under the Sand, but he also deliberatelyechoes his early 1997 film See the Sea.

Over the course of his career so far, Ozon has jumped wildly from territory to territory, from the creepy black comedy of Sitcom to the Fassbinder-influenced drama Water Drops on Burning Rocks to the Cukor-influenced musical 8 Women.

Happily, this retread seems to have occurred for a reason. I was one of the only reviewers not fully satisfied by Under the Sand. To me, it not only failed to deliver any suspense, but also failed to reveal any emotions deeper than surface-level.

Shot mostly in English, Swimming Pool picks up the slack left by that movie and stretches it to a taut, psychological tête-à-tête that rivets us and keeps us guessing. As with all his films, Ozon begins hunting for the rancid underbelly to a perfectly placid situation.

Rampling stars as Sarah Morton, a successful English detective novelist who is so burned out that she can't even acknowledge a fan on the subway. Her editor (Charles Dance) allows her to borrow his French villa for a much needed change of scenery.

Once there, Sarah begins settling in, removing a wooden cross from the bedroom wall and occasionally wandering from her diet of yogurt. Just as she begins working on a new novel, a twentysomething suddenly girl turns up -- the editor's daughter whom Sarah has never met.

With her long, ratty blond hair, the girl, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier, the tomboy from 8 Women) is undeniably sexy and loves to bask in her own sex appeal. She sunbathes in various forms of undress and brings men of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors home as playthings.

Julie makes an attempt at friendliness, but Sarah is just too wound-up. The women begin harping at one another, but can't stop thinking about one another. Finally Sarah gets a brainstorm: write her next novel about Julie.

Things heat up when Julie brings home a waiter from a local restaurant and he's more attracted to Sarah than he is to Julie. Without revealing any more, the story's elements collide and erupt, leaving us with a particularly stunning ending.

In See the Sea, an English mother vacationing in France allows a strange female hitchhiker to stay with her for a few days while her husband is gone. The two develop an increasingly strange relationship, which leads to a violent end. (Don't worry, I haven't given anything away here.)

But See the Sea only had 52-minutes to work with. As in Under the Sand, Ozon takes his time through Swimming Pool and leaves plenty of room to set up atmosphere and routine; he luxuriates in the extra time.

For example, we learn all about Sarah and what she eats, what she wears, what she likes and doesn't like to do, even before Julie turns up. Ozon also provides a beautiful sense of place -- with the warm sun and the quiet emptiness of the off-season resort -- in which every moment is loaded with sinister calm.

What he reveals about Sarah he hides about Julie, keeping the women's relationship off-balance and keeping us in the audience hopping back and forth. Julie allures us, but we don't trust her. Sarah is our anchor, but she's almost too safe.

Ozon normally surprises by changing material, but here he has surprised us by going over the same material and making it fresh. Swimming Pool is a very simple idea, but brilliantly executed by an exciting filmmaker who continues to prove himself over and over again.

DVD Details: The DVD comes is available in both "R" rated and unrated versions, though I'm not sure who would be interested in the former. The latter comes with at least one more scene featuring... ahem... more of Ludivine Sagnier. The DVD also comes with the theatrical trailer and several deleted scenes.

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