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Swimming Pool (2003)

On the surface, all is calm.

Directed by:

François Ozon

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 103 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Why is it that films about writer's block, despite featuring characters who have run out of ideas, turn out themselves to be so full of them? 'Barton Fink' and 'Adaptation' are about as inventive as cinema gets, and now there is François Ozon's 'Swimming Pool', which, with its understated cleverness, knocks most other films out of the water.

When author Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) tells her editor John Bosload (Charles Dance) that she has become dissatisfied with writing reserved English detective novels, John invites her to take time out at his empty country house (with swimming pool) in France. There she starts on a new writing project, until she is interrupted by the arrival of John's sexually promiscuous daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier). At first, Sarah resents Julie's free spirit, but soon she comes to recognise a part of her own youthful self in the girl, and, fascinated by her troubled story, begins work secretly on a new project entitled 'Julie' – until, that is, local waiter Franck (Jean-Marie Lamour), last seen by Sarah arguing with Julie, goes missing, and Sarah finds herself collaborating in an altogether different way with Julie.

Deftly distorting the distinctions between reality, dreams, fantasies and fiction, the placid surface of 'Swimming Pool' conceals murky depths in which casual viewers will easily find themselves ensnared. Part psychological profile of middle-aged loneliness, disappointment and desire, part erotic thriller, and part study of a writer's creative processes, 'Swimming Pool' comes with an enigmatic ending which will have you playing and replaying the film in your head for days in a bid to work out just what it is you have seen happen, who the characters really were and how they related to one another.

'Swimming Pool' is a film of great subtlety which might easily have floundered about in the shallow end were it not for the compelling performance of Charlotte Rampling, who handles brilliantly Sarah's transformation from repressed old maid to confident woman of experience, as well as the progression of Sarah's attitudes towards Julie from irritable envy to maternal affection and identification. Rampling is also cleverly cast. When Sarah asserts 'Don't judge a book by its cover: I was around in Swinging London', we can easily picture her less respectable past precisely because of Rampling's own iconically notorious life in the Sixties – and her previous work with Ozon in 'Under the Sand', playing a woman losing her grip on reality, leaves an evocative trace, suggesting at least one way in which we might interpret her character in this film. Oh, and forget 'Calendar Girls' – there are very few actresses of Rampling's age who can carry off a nude scene the way she does.

So, if you are in the mood for a female character study, full of eroticism and intrigue, with a profound enigma at its heart, then 'Swimming Pool' will not disappoint. And, as befits a film so concerned with the transgression of identity, despite being a French film it is mostly in English.

It's Got: All the distorted reflections, murky waters, and cool, of a swimming pool - without any risk of getting chlorine in your eyes.

It Needs: To be seen more than once, probably.

Alternatives:

Adaptation, Barton Fink

Summary

While possibly not for everyone, 'Swimming Pool' is superbly acted, and also perfectly constructed, with even the most casually offhand details or remarks coming to seem important in retrospect. A deeply intelligent film that somehow manages never to seem so.

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