Swimming Pool (France, 2003, in English) *** 1/2
Directed by François Ozon. Written by Ozon & Emmanuèle Bernheim. Photography, Yorick Le Saux. Editing, Monica Coleman. Art direction, Wouter Zoon.
An English-language movie by Frenchman Francois Ozon,, starring Britisher Charlotte Rampling and the weirdly-named French actress Ludivine Sagnier. In recent years, Ms. Rampling has enjoyed an amazingly strong revival of her career, mostly in art house films. Here, she plays Sarah Morton, a British writer of detective fiction, best sellers that always feature the same sleuth, a Scotland Yard inspector. Think writers P.D. James and her chief inspector Adam Dalgliesh, or Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot.
Sarah has reached a professional peak, but is tired, depressed, suffering from mid-life crisis plus writer's cramp. She visits her editor John Bosload (Charles Dance) who, 'tis broadly hinted, was (still is?) her lover (or one of them?). The film, sensibly, economically, and as befits the world of detection, provides clues but no certainties about the lady's private life.
John suggests that she go, rest and reactivate her author's juices in his house in Provence (beautiful rural southern France) specifically in the demi-paradise area called the Luberon.
There she starts picking up energy, creativity (and tentatively a macho waiter in the village) until, that is, the publisher's French daughter Julie (Ms. Sagnier) shows up and changes everything. She speaks English, is a lively girl who swings in several ways, notably in an extremely active, almost nymphomaniacal life. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but in Julie's case it a string of most unappetizing men with whom she has loud -even vociferous -sex in the house keeps Sarah awake, annoyed and disapproving.
Initially there is antagonism between the two women, but then in a kind of echo of detective fiction, things happen (I am not revealing them), and a weird bond is created. More uncertainty sets in matters of what is reality and what is fiction. Without neglecting the odd relationships -- indeed, by reinforcing the ladies' portraits and rapport, a suspense thriller is born. Sarah, in a sense becomes the sleuth of her own novels. The title's swimming pool exists in the property, literally (that's where Julie goes naked) as well as symbolically. It is also a catalyst, but I'll be mum on this.
The ways in which the older woman (who, by the way, has a nice figure too when "au naturel") connects with the younger one are clever and often humorous. It may be hard for Americans to understand the French. It is harder yet for the Brits, yet it is nicely, smartly worked out in this movie.
Of course, if not the "zeitgeist" the magic of the French South is a major factor. Think of that wonderful book by Peter Mayle "A Year in Provence" and of the eponymous TV miniseries. How odd that the latter's main male character was played by John Thaw, and that Mr. Thaw was also the central character in the "Inspector Morse" series. What a small world we live in!
Maverick writer-director Ozon is very hot in today's cinema. At age 21 he started making excellent, original short movies, almost two dozen. Since the year 2000 he's made a half-dozen features, two of which ("Water Drops On Burning Rocks," " 8 Women" include Ms. Sagnier. "Under the Sand" stars a terrific Charlotte Rampling. The ladies in the inventive "Swimming Pool" are remarkable.