Swimming Pool. Focus Features presents a film directed by Francois Ozon. Written by Ozon and Emmanuele Bernheim. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 102 minutes. Rated R (for strong sexual content, nudity, language, some violence and drug use). Starring Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance, Marc Fayolle, Jean-Marie Lamour.

Swimming Pool

Warning: This review contains some minor spoilers. Continue reading at your own discretion.

Swimming Pool, François Ozon's first English-language feature, is not a thriller per say. It does involve a murder, but the killing is not investigated for more than fifteen minutes, and it has no real consequences. What Ozon has accomplished with Swimming Pool is a combination of thriller, character study, and an examination of the line between what is truth and what is fiction. It is a movie Alfred Hitchcock would have undoubtably appreciated greatly.

As has become fashionable these days, Swimming Pool contains a major twist. But, unlike many lesser films, the twist is not the point of the movie. In fact, its main purpose is to involve us greater into the mind of its heroine. If the viewer is inattentive, the conclusion will be perplexing and undecipherable. As it is, it will take much thought and perhaps even a second viewing for even the most involved viewer to piece everything together.

The heroine of Swimming Pool, Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling), is a British "crime fiction writer", who initally seems like a younger version of Agathy Christie's Miss Marple (one character even makes this observation). As the film opens she is tired and worn out of writing the same kind of novel over and over again. She pays a visit to her money-hungry puplisher and (implied) former lover, John Bosland (Charles Dance), who offers to let Sarah stay at his French home - the peace and quiet, he says, will be perfect for her to begin work again; it even has a swimming pool. But as soon as she settles down and starts work, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), John's rebellious, oversexed daughter, moves in. Sarah attempts to set boundries, but Julie constantly oversteps them, going out late and keeping Sarah up at night with her constant lovemaking.

As Sarah finds out more about Julie's ambiguous past, however, the two draw closer, until they're relationship becomes almost that of mother and daughter. There is not a complete role shift, but by the end of the film Sarah has smoked pot and Julie (who spends most of the movie partially or fully nude) has put on some clothes.

Swimming Pool is much like Ozon's previous films - slow-paced, deliberate, and engrossing. We are drawn into the lives of these characters, and begin to wish we knew more about their daily lives. When the twist turns the entire thing upside down, it is at once shocking and fascinating. Certain moments, like the encounter between Sarah and a quickly aging midget, seem downright Lynchian.

The two lead actresses have both worked with Ozon previously. Rampling (Ozon's Under the Sand) is outstanding as the sour-tempered Sarah, and even before her change, we sense the wild part of her trying to escape. Sagnier, who worked with Ozon last year on 8 Women, is radiant as Julie. But she provides more than a fantastic body, impressing upon us that Julie, even while partying and drinking, is simply hiding from her own internal demons.

Swimming Pool comes in at a fairly short 102 minutes. As the credits roll, we feel a distinct sense of satisfaction, even as we are attempting to figure out what has just occured. It is complicated, and there is only one explanation that satisfies completely, but the film never becomes obtuse or ridiculous, as some of David Lynch's movies do. Some may leave the theater feeling confused or dissatisfied, but for those willing to invest some effort into their viewing experience, Swimming Pool is a good example of involving and fascinating cinema.

© 2003 Matt Noller