Swimming Pool
directed by Francois Ozon
(Focus, 2003)

Sarah Morton is an English detective fiction writer with a stiff upper lip and lower body parts to match. Julie Bosload is a young French woman whose motto would seem to be "too much is never enough." And Franck is a French waiter who looks like a cross between Mike Schmidt and Richard "Jaws" Kiel and dances like something out of Night of the Living Dead, yet manages to spark a love -- or at least lust -- feud between the two women.

How all this comes about is fairly complicated.

Morton (Charlotte Rampling), who's having trouble coming up with a new entry for her Inspector Dorwell series, gets an offer she can't refuse from her publisher (Charles Dance): the use of his country home in the south of France, complete with the Swimming Pool that gives French director Francois Ozon's film its name. It's not the offer Morton wanted when she showed up empty-handed at his office door, but she's hoping she can still get that offer when he drops in on her for the weekend.

Instead, it's his 20-something daughter, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), who turns up, speaking French and breaking the stillness that had allowed Morton to begin writing again with a series of drug-and-alcohol-fueled one-night stands that initially annoy, and eventually inspire, the once germaphobic Englishwoman.

How it all works out is simple -- stunningly.

Ozon, who also wrote the screenplay, cobbles together a fascinating series of images, of which the most memorable, of course, is the swimming pool. The lapping blue waters are almost hypnotic and offer a vibrant contrast to the muddy green currents of the Thames, which provide the background for the opening credits.

But the swimming pool is just the beginning. Scene after scene, Ozon and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux play up the light and shadow of southern France in the off-season, offering up portraits of Morton, Julie and the good citizens of southern France that are worthy of the French masters.

Ozon then underscores these carefully shaded images with a lack of music. In fact, there's very little background noise in Swimming Pool at all, making it one of the quietest movies since talkies hit the big screen.

But that doesn't mean there's nothing going on. On the contrary, there's always some bit of trouble afoot, though given Morton's profession and her habit of letting her imagination run wild, it's not always easy to say what happened and what didn't.

And if the ending leaves you feeling the least bit confused, don't be too hard on yourself. You're not alone.

Swimming Pool is a fascinating exercise in visual storytelling, driven by powerful images and fueled by raw human passion. It's witty, intelligent and mind-boggling.

And in its own small way, it has much to say about the human condition -- what brings us together and drives us apart, and what makes us tick -- until we explode.

- Rambles
written by Miles O'Dometer
published 24 October 2004

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