Swimming Pool

September, 2003, Mystery

At 57, British actress Charlotte Rampling still possesses the remarkable capacity, (first evident in her steamy performance 3 decades ago in The Night Porter) to personify  erotically-charged intelligence; her expressions suggest a keen, insightful mind and an appetite for carnality completely under her control. There isn't a screen actress working today who embodies the aspirations of feminism more perfectly--and succulently--then she does. The power of this presence often exceeds the ability of her many directors to employ it, but Francois Ozon did so perfectly three years ago in Under The Sand, and he repeats that feat somewhat less successfully here in this languid thriller which explores reality and creative imagination with equal Gallic skepticism.

Rampling plays Sarah Morton, a successful but peevish author of mysteries who accepts the use of her publisher's summer home in the south of France so that she can begin work on her next book. Spinsterish in dress, emotionally arid in manner and full of longings she can neither explain or banish, she's barely begun her work when the house is invaded by the publisher's voluptuous daughter Julie, portrayed, (and displayed) in all her feminine charms by the young French actress Ludivine Sagnier. Julie, who occasionally lives with her divorced mother, personifies all that Rampling ostensibly detests but secretly craves, so the pair initially circle each other with barely concealed contempt. Julie's compulsive sexual appetites, (brought home nightly for Sarah's voyeuristic delectation) repel the author even as they prompt her to unethically seek explanations for it. Julie's self-absorbed sensuality turns ominous, however; when she returns home bearing the results of a beating, Sarah's halting sympathy finally allows the women to begin building a tenuous but important relationship. But when both of them compete for the attentions of Franck, a local man both are attracted to, sexual jealousy leads to violence and the formation of an even odder bond between these apparently dissimilar yet curiously connected combatants. 

In probing the secrets of Julie's past and participating in the felony that flows from their confrontation over Franck, Sarah displays an increasing tendency towards behavior at odds with the persona she originally presented; is a profound change occurring? Is her creative imagination seeing a reality at variance with the facts? If so, can she distinguish between the two? And if so, what significance should be attached to the reappearing crucifix above her bed?

Ozon toys with his audience here, and Rampling's enigmatic sensuality provides the perfect vehicle for the mind games he's so adept at providing. Ms. Sagnier's ripe figure, always on display yet rarely clothed, keeps the audience so focused on part of the story that the director's progressive slights-of-hand with Sarah's emerging metamorphosis permit him to reach the final frames of the movie before providing answers to the script's riddles. Whether they're satisfactory or not, Swimming Pool will perplex you while confirming that even Ms. Sagnier's voluptuousness is no match for Rampling’s more devastating sexuality.

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