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Swimming Pool

March 7, 2013

Swimming Pool (2003)
Director: Francois Ozon
Actors: Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance

Swimming Pool

Synopsis: Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) is a reserved fiftysomething British crime novelist who lives in London with her elderly father. She takes off to her publisher’s country retreat in the South of France to work on her next novel, and finds unlikely inspiration there in the guise of the provocative young daughter, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), of her publisher.

Review: This is a classy little thriller which isn’t intended to be taken too much at face value as any kind of rigorous treatise on writing or the idea of the unreliable narrator. Quite honestly at any point from when Sarah is sitting in her gloomy London flat awaiting her trip to sunny France, to late on in the piece when the dramas of her French sojourn become ever more entwined with that of her publisher’s daughter, one could make numerous cases for moments where Sarah’s life might be merging with that of the fiction she is creating. The volte-face at the end, for example, certainly doesn’t carry the psychological weight or dramatic omph that similar twists at the end of Memento or Fight Club possess.

The enjoyment of Swimming Pool is in the ambience and the journey, and its central theme of the murk of fiction is designed to entertain, rather than necessarily impress, the viewer. That’s why the obvious aesthetic contrast between the drab greys of the Thames at the film’s beginning to the shimmering azure of the swimming pool in the French country house thereafter works well. Also, the swimming pool as symbol for the lifting of Sarah’s repression and creative block is again a basic, but nonetheless elegant, metaphor.

François Ozon films his narrative expertly, content where necessary to slow and quieten the action right down to reflect the calm that Sarah initially wants to foster. And he also finds striking images to demonstrate how Sarah processes her new domain – there are lots of views from her balcony down onto the pool where Julie is invariably to be found luxuriating.

Ultimately though, the film wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it didn’t have Charlotte Rampling in the lead role. In a narrative where much of the drama is inherently in the mind of its protagonist, it’s imperative the actress playing Sarah is sufficiently skilled to take you inside that psyche: Rampling totally nails this. Her persona and expressions amply demonstrate the thrilled inner-journey of this woman who ventures from frustrated, buttoned-up English prude to a writer who has her creative juices completely rejuvenated by the film’s close. (March 2013)

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