Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) is a successful English crime/mystery author with writer’s block. At the suggestion of her publisher John Bosload (Charles Dance), Sarah takes a break at his secluded holiday home in the South of France, but unexpectedly her peace is disturbed by the surprise arrival of his teenage daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), whose sexual appetite and lifestyle totally contrasts the conservative Sarah. Her horror turns to fascination as Sarah becomes obsessed by Julie and her life, igniting her fertile imagination.
Review by Louise Keller:
A complex and haunting story that intersects real-life with fiction, Swimming Pool is a beautifully observed film of contrasts, welcoming our chuckles, our insightful understanding of the characters and their compelling journey. Offering the same reflective mood we enjoyed in François Ozon’s Under the Sand, in which Charlotte Rampling explored the realms of reality in a different way, this is a film that very simply introduces a number of ideas and jumbles them up as enticingly as a splendid meal made from prime ingredients.
We first meet Sarah on the London underground, obviously irritated that one of her readers should recognise her. As she breezes into her publisher John’s office, it is clear that the personal relationship that they once shared no longer exists, although when she accepts John’s invitation to get away from it all, she can’t help asking if he will join her. But the excuses come all too readily. Like Sarah, once surrounded by the tranquillity and isolation of her French hideaway, we absorb the simple joys of waking up each morning with no distractions. Connecting her laptop is the first priority, but once secure that her connection to the world of writing fiction is intact, she is ready to explore the neighbourhood, shop locally, and enjoy the luxury of idly allowing her batteries to recharge.
Julie’s surprise arrival comes like a slap across the face, magnifying every single difference between the stiff, conservatism of the English and the loose morals of the French girl. Julie discards her clothes at every opportunity, and changes men (and methods of seduction) as readily as changing bathing costumes. Sarah’s horror turns to fascination as her curiosity and fertile imagination propels her on a different course, using everything she sees as inspiration for her writing. Rampling perfectly inhabits Sarah, seen by Julie as an ‘English bitch with a broomstick up her arse’, while Ludivine Sagnier (8 Femmes) seduces us (and every man in sight) by her contradictory little girl/woman appeal. Ozon thrives on riding the sexual see-saw as Sarah and Julie finally come face to face competing for the handsome, well endowed Franck.
The sexual tension and innuendos are beautifully constructed and Ozon makes every opportunity for Sagnier to bare her breasts and display her shapely form. When Sarah uses her sex – in a delectably set up scene that is funny, surprising and touching – she finally buries her prudishness for once and for all. Philippe Rombi’s music is as memorable as the characters – Charles Dance’s pompous John, Marc Fayolle’s old caretaker Marcel, Jean-Marie Lamour’s charming Franck. Swimming Pool is simple yet complex. It delights and ignites our passions and above all entertains.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It was disappointing to hear writer Bob Ellis mumble ‘Rubbish…’ as he walked out about 15 minutes into the film’s Sydney Film Festival screening (June 20, 2003). Disappointing for him, as much as for the film’s makers. Ozon’s deceptively subtle and slow opening scenes serve to lay the groundwork for what is an emotional whirlwind that blows through Sarah Morton’s life and delivers a book that she would not otherwise have written – not to mention a private journey of her innermost persona. A writer like Bob Ellis would have appreciated that journey, having himself experienced life-changing moments that triggered writings.
And it’s that edgy collision between writer and human being which fascinates Ozon in this film, taking us on a trip that is at once accessible yet remote. He uses sexuality as the currency, an erotic version of it in the sensuous hinterland of Southern France. This location is crucial to the film, and Ozon spends as much time as possible wallowing in and around the slightly hidden yet accessible French villa, a symbol of all that is rustic, sexy and sensuous, to contrast with Rampling’s English, buttoned up, repressed and icy Sarah. By the time we realise what’s going on, the film has hoodwinked us, or rather Sarah has. Swimming pool is serious about its subject but lighthearted in its delivery, a pleasure flick with something to say. It’s not rubbish at all, Bob.
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SWIMMING POOL (M)
CAST: Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance, Marc Fayolle, Jean-Marie Lamour, Mireille Mossé, Michel Fau, Jean-Claude Lecas, Emilie Gavois-Kahn, Erarde Forestali, Lauren Farrow, Sebastian Harcombe, Frances Cuka, Keith Yeates
PRODUCER: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
DIRECTOR: François Ozon
SCRIPT: Emmanuèle Bernheim, François Ozon
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Yorick Le Saux
EDITOR: Monica Coleman
MUSIC: Philippe Rombi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Wouter Zoon
OTHER: LANGUAGE: English/French
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 2, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
VIDEO RELEASE: May 12, 2004