Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance, Marc Fayolle
Director: François Ozon
Writer/director Francois Ozon’s SWIMMING POOL is a slow-burning study of crime novelist Sarah Morton’s (Charlotte Rampling) attempt to overcome her writer’s block by leaving the stuffy confines of her life in England for the relaxed ambience of rural France. Ozon utilises atmosphere and tone rather than incident to draw the viewer into the world of the spiky and shrewish author. Feeling enervated and uninspired in London Morton accepts an offer from her publisher, John (Charles Dance), to stay in his empty summer home in France. Initially she is rejuvenated by the isolation, the balmy weather, the large and comfortable house, and the tranquil environment; but her serenity is suddenly shattered by the unexpected arrival of John’s brash and sexually promiscuous French daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier).
Julie spends her days languidly sunbathing besides the swimming pool and her nights raucously entertaining a variety of men; both activities proving to be equally disruptive of Morton’s fragile equanimity. The fitful interaction between the two women progresses from enmity to reluctant tolerance and eventually to a mutual understanding which allows a softening of relations. But the newfound detente brings with it the promise of dark secrets waiting to be revealed, and this leads Morton to believe that she may have stumbled into some real-life mysterious intrigue.
SWIMMING POOL provides an excellent and challenging vehicle for the two lead actresses to develop their contrasting characters: the majority of the film is spent exploring the clash between the prim, inhibited Morton and the voluptuous and brazen Julie. But I cannot help thinking that it would have been a more complete film if Ozon had devoted equal time to the murderous change of direction that the plot takes in the final quarter. Ozon seems to think that this sudden development, in conjunction with the revelatory twist of the last scene, is enough to counterbalance the personality clash that dominates the preceding seventy-five minutes. It’s not. Ideally the two plot strands would have been entwined at an earlier stage and thus the evolving mystery could have provided a pacier counterpoint to the fractured relationship of the two women. As a result SWIMMING POOL, whilst undeniably dramatic and sexy, comes across as merely interesting when it attempts to be intriguing.