Swimming Pool

I haven’t written about a movie in a while, so I thought I’d try to get back in the habit. S. and I finally made it out to Sandy Springs’ terrific new Madstone Theater, a renovated multiplex that devotes several screens to art house and revival films (it also has a nice, if overpriced, wine and beer selection). On a second visit, I’m still very impressed.

After enjoying a tasty pizza at Fellini’s Pizza (George apparently likes their pizza, too), S. and I went to Madstone to see Fran├žois Ozon’s Swimming Pool, starring Charlotte Rampling as Sarah Morton, a British mystery writer who faces writers’ block and burn-out, while seeing her status declining when her publisher introduces her to “The Next Big Writer.” Sarah’s casual dismissal of a fan’s recognition on the tube indicates that she is bored with writing formulaic mystery novels.

In order to regain her momentum as a writer, Sarah borrows her publisher’s French villa, which takes on an aura of tranquility through the use of a primarily yellow and brown pallette, and through the empty cafes and stores Sarah visits, casually passing her afternoons. Soon after Sarah’s arrival, her privacy is disrupted when Julie, the publisher’s enigmatic daughter, shows up unexpected. Julie is loud, boisterous, messy, and sexually active; her presence disrupts Sarah’s writing, emphasized visually through the swimming pool where Julie spends her days, swimming topless or nude, often directly in Sarah’s line of vision. Sarah gradually becomes fascinated by the mysterious younger woman, exploring her diary and picking up a discarded piece of Julie’s clothing. She even starts a file named “Julie,” indicating that her writing has taken a new turn. There is a hint of sexual desire between the two women, especially when they compete for the interests of Frank, a local waiter, but this tension is complicated by a secret the two women ultimately share.

Swimming Pool then takes a turn (which I will not explain) that most reviewers have aptly described as Hitchcockian. For several reasons, I found this narrative twist somewhat clunky and gratuitous, especially given the pay-off at the very end of the film, when we learn a little more about Julie.

In interviews, Ozon has commented that in Swimming Pool, “I’m actually talking about myself, my own creative method. I wanted to show how I work,” and the film is very much about the creative process as we watch Sarah carefully observing Julie, often from long-distances, with Julie in the foreground, and Sarah in the distance, often in the safety of her balcony. The film itself is quite slippery; it’s beautifully stylish and uses the French countryside to illustrate Sarah’s early tranquility before transforming to accomodate Julie’s disruptive presence. I’m not sure I have a clear take on the film–I certainly enjoy stylish post-Hitchcockian thrillers, particularly when they play with constructions of identity in somewhat complicated ways. But Swimming Pool also felt a little sloppy in places, especially in the film’s conclusion, which resolved things a little too neatly for my tastes.

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