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Laramie Movie Scope:
Swimming Pool

A sexy tale of twisted reality

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 18, 2003 -- “Swimming Pool” is a dazzling film that plays tricks with your mind. It is also very sexy. There is a full frontal nudity shot and about half the film consists of topless shots of its young, well-endowed star, Ludivine Sagnier of “8 Women.” But hey, its French, what did you expect? Actually, it is an English language film, mostly. Some of the dialogue is in French, and the story takes place mostly in the south of France. The director is French, François Ozon (“8 Women”).

The film stars Charlotte Rampling of “Spy Game” as English novelist Sarah Morton. Rampling teamed with director Ozon in an earlier film, “Under the Sand.” Morton goes to France to stay in the country home of her publisher, John Bosload (played by Charles Dance of “Gosford Park”). Morton needs inspiration for her next book. She specializes in murder mysteries, but she is bored by them and wants to write something different. She has just started to write her next book, when along comes Bosload's nymphet daughter, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier). The daughter, who sleeps with a different guy every night, disrupts Morton's concentration. She becomes a major distraction.

Things get complicated when a murder happens at the remote cottage. Morton and Julie decide to get rid of the body. The two become unlikely friends and each of them begins to change, to take on characteristics of the other. The ending is a real puzzler. It is sort of like a more sophisticated, intelligent version of a Hitchcock movie. At first blush, it seems like an expansive movie, but it is really intimate and claustrophobic. There are very few characters and they are not who they seem to be. There have been American films like this in recent years, but this is different. The difference is that in American film, there is an explanation at the end to clear up the loose ends. In this film, there is no explanation. The viewer has to make up his own explanation. It is sort of like that old line from a movie, I think it was Mary Poppins, “Let me explain one thing, I don't explain anything.” Never fear, I have an explanation. It is in the spoilers section below.

This is an excellent film. It is challenging. It had me fooled. It made me think. American films tend to do your thinking for you. This film is more engaging than that. The story is masterfully told by Ozon (who also wrote the screenplay). The pacing is deliberate, but effective. The images and words are carefully framed. If you aren't paying close attention to it, you might find yourself floating along on the surface of the narrative, unaware of its depths until the very end, when you are confronted with huge inconsistencies in the “facts” of the story. The big revelation is that the Julie in the bulk of the film is not the “real” Julie. This puts into question all that has gone before, and you have to rethink everything and determine what the new reality is, just as you had to do in “Memento.” I did not find the film entertaining, except, perhaps from a voyeuristic standpoint, but this is not an entertainment product, like an American film. This is an art film. As such, it rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

Spoilers below

There are a lot of similarities between this film and “Identity.” There are also some similarities between “Swimming Pool,” “The Usual Suspects” and “American Psycho.” In all three films, the version of reality presented at first turns out not to be reality at all, but fantasy. In the case of “Swimming Pool,” there are hints to be found all along in the film that we are seeing the vivid imagination of a writer at work. There is a dreamlike quality to the events. They don't seem real. For one thing, there is no motive for the murder. Morton's reaction to the murder is strange, to say the least, and Morton's strange sexual encounter with the gardener, Marcel (Marc Fayolle) is also out of character. It all makes perfect sense, however, when you view most of these proceedings as imaginary. Most, if not all, of the events in the remote house in France are happening only in Morton's mind as she works out her next murder mystery.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)