Nothing is certain in Ozon’s layered, erotic mystery about the commingling of reality and imagination with the creative writing process, featuring excellent performances by Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier.
Dir. Francois Ozon
2003 | France/UK | Drama/Crime/Mystery | 102 mins | 1.85:1 | English & French
R21 (passed clean) for strong sexual content, nudity, language, some violence and drug use
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier
Plot: A British author seeks inspiration and solitude at her publisher’s holiday home in in the South of France. Her quietude is soon disrupted by the reckless, erotic lifestyle of his daughter.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: Celluloid Dreams
Subject Matter: Mature – Reality vs. Fiction, Sexuality
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
With the now-iconic image of Ludivine Sagnier sunbathing in a bikini featured in nearly all of the film’s marketing collateral, Swimming Pool was one of Francois Ozon’s buzzier pictures at the time.
Promoted as a sexy, erotic movie with mysterious undertones, Ozon’s work relies heavily on the subtlety of Charlotte Rampling’s performance as Sarah, a frigid British mystery writer who takes a trip to the south of France to stay in her publisher’s vacated house.
However, Sarah’s bid to energise herself creatively in isolation is threatened by the unexpected presence of her publisher’s sexually promiscuous daughter, Julie (Sagnier in a perfect role as a seductive ‘femme fatale’).
While sexuality is a key theme, Ozon’s more interested in sensuality, at least judging by how deliberate he lets his shots linger on Julie’s nude body.
“When someone keeps an entire part of their life secret from you, it’s fascinating and frightening.”
One might say that this is the male gaze working at its most conscious level, but Ozon’s clever enough to suggest that this might also be the point-of-view of Sarah’s imagination inasmuch as it relates to an older woman’s jealousy and desire toward someone younger and more liberal than her.
Swimming Pool is, of course, also about the fine line between reality and imagination, as Sarah tries to write a story about Julie.
Alternating between bouts of writer’s block and instances of creative inspiration, Sarah becomes Ozon’s ‘unreliable narrator’ in that she is the fulcrum of a layered mystery without any solid semblance of reality.
Yet everything seems grounded, plausible and suspenseful like a Hitchcock movie. It’s not a particularly great film from Ozon, but it is surely one of his most perversely entertaining efforts.