Take the Plunge with Swimming Pool
Rob Levy
7/13/2003 4:19:18 PM

Throughout his film making career, Francois Ozon has been known to stir the pot. His films brim with smoldering ingenues, tense conflict and always look bright and colorful. His movies are taut with sexuality, generational contrast and clever tricks for the viewer.

Swimming Pool, Ozon's first English language film, offers all of this and more. Taking the tip this go-around are two lead actresses who have worked with Ozon before, Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier.

Sagnier starred in last year's 8 Women, with her naive charm and quiet eyes. Rampling was steadfast in Ozon's Under The Sun. This unlikely pairing really does work on screen.

Rampling plays Sarah Morton, a very uppity British detective fiction writer. She is burned out, tired and needs a creative spark. Her erstwhile preoccupied editor sends her off to southern France to rest at his vacation estate. At first, this is great for Sarah. She gets to take in the sun. She gets to absorb the local French charm. She also gets to work on her new book. She is looking to write about something else other than her bread and butter creation, Inspector Doorwell. Sarah finds the sunny French community of Luberon, idyllic.

Enter Sagnier as Julie. Julie is full-on sexy. She is a blatantly brash lass who is loud, voracious and primal. Julie is the daughter of Sarah's editor, and she too is looking to get away. However, her unexpected arrival triggers a battle of generations between the stiff, reserved and rigid Sarah and the cracked, bullish dynamo Julie.

At first they quarter off the house and live in semi-harmony. However Julie's sexual escapades, loud music and debauchery become to much and things come to a head.

It is at this point where Ozon shows off his real talent: The combustion created between these two starkly different women in sunny paradise plays on the audience. Tension builds as the sun gets brighter and the nights get longer. Things fester and boil and burn. Things flare up when Julie's sexuality seeps out and envelops everyone, including the charming handyman Marcel.

Eventually, our heroines play nice and have a go at getting along. The relationship that develops is based on their mutual need for one another. Sarah needs Julie as a creative outlet, Julie needs a mother-figure to understand and listen to her.

However, just when you think this film is all about the generational gap between crazy French sexpots and repressed English writers, Swimming Pool takes a deep, tantalizing plunge. Murder, more sex, and drugs are all thrown in to spice it up. This culminates in some odd female bonding via a terrific plot twist.

This is a well-acted, slickly visual film of contrasts. Its excessive pallor is bookended by differences. The characters, settings, lifestyles and backgrounds all contrast and conflict, allowing plot twists, surprises and character development. Ozon has made these differences the central focus of the film, using the Swimming Pool as both a metaphor and catalyst for this film. A must-see.


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