Swimming Pool

Swimming Pool ★★★★

Beguiling psychosexual thriller from Francois Ozon that guards its secrets jealously right to the end.

Charlotte Rampling is Sarah, a successful crime writer who is given the keys to her publisher Charles Dance's house in France to clear her head and replenish her creative batteries. Not merely suffering a case of literary ennui, Sarah seems to be in the grip of anhedonia. She doesn't appear to be able to take pleasure in anything at all. She wolfs her food down, not even pausing to taste it. She is perpetually surly and aloof to all who try and make conversation.

Her solitude is shattered by the unexpected arrival of Julie, her publisher's French Daughter (Ludivine Sagnier). Julie is loud, brash and untidy. Not only this she brings a series of men home for one-night stands. Repelled at first, Sarah begins to develop a voyeuristic fascination with the frequently naked Julie. She abandons the book she has been writing and begins to write about the girl.

The film works beautifully well. Its glacial pace belies its intensity, and the central metaphor of the swimming pool itself is a potent one. The calm surface is deceptive. There is also a recurring image of a fully clothed man looming over a relining swimsuit-clad woman which further compounds the film's troubling quietly aggressive eroticism.

Swimming Pool wallows in its ambiguities and the viewer will inevitably be left with questions. It shares some themes with the director's earlier work Under the Sand which also stars Rampling. I believe Ozon worked with her again here for her ability to convey so much turbulence beneath an outwardly unreadable exterior. She is brilliant once again here, and Sagnier is a bewitching presence that combines raw sexuality wielded like a blunt weapon with an at times petulant and needy side. The two spark of each other brilliantly.

Some may well be put off by the film's slow pace and deliberate ambiguities, and it isn't quite as polished and complex as the wonderful In the House but it is very much a film to admire with an enviable tautness and tension achieved with very simple materials.

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