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Swimming Pool

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 06/20/03 17:43:34

"Rampling and Sagnier drive a fiercely provocative film"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

François Ozon’s new film Swimming Pool takes Ludivine Sagnier out of the ensemble and makes her a co-star opposite Charlotte Rampling. This the third Ozon film for the intelligent, young Parisian actress. Sagnier plays Julie who either does or doesn’t exist outside of the imagination of English crime novelist Sarah Morton, who is played to perfection by Charlotte Rampling. “I had to work very hard on this film. François gave me very little direction which helped me be like how my character Julie really was.” Her hard work pays off. If we only had young American actresses with half the brilliance and performance readiness of Ludivine Sagnier.

Hollywood is a trashy town full of experts at faking it. So when the real thing comes along and raises the bar higher than the other players can reach, what happens is that talent simply gets ignored. Ludivine is not a “star” in that she makes good media. She is a star in that her powers as an actress are palpably strong and as she matures, we will see fine, subtle performances as long as the right film projects keep finding her.

Swimming Pool takes place at a villa in the south of France. Best-selling English crime novelist Sarah Morton is sent on a working vacation by her publisher. When his daughter Julie shows up unannounced, it sends Sarah on a journey towards what she calls “her finest work yet.” While I can’t talk about how the film ends, I can say that it will radically alter your perception of the film you thought you were watching.

The ending is so jarring, so full of it’s own smoke and mirrors, that like the image of the swimming pool itself, it allows there to be as many interpretation of the movie as there are people who watch it. In one theory of “who creates the work of art, the creator or the person who experiences it,” there is a compromise position (Rosenblatt, if you actually plan on chasing the reference down) which says that the work of art is created somewhere between what the artist created and what the audience perceives. In much the same way Ozon gave Sagnier precious little direction, the audience is left to fend for themselves when the story suddenly changes in the final scenes of the film and I’m sure it will lead to a lot of post-cinema coffee house speculation.

The title of the movie comes from the supporting role the swimming pool at the villa has in the story. The swimming pool is used as a symbolic cue which can represent the unfolding of Sarah’s novel, or it can represent the friendship blooming between Julie and Sarah, or it can represent the opening up of Sarah to a part of her creative self she had yet to explore. The pool starts out covered and goes through various stages of being uncovered, cleaned and then finally fully enjoyed as the centerpiece of a summer vacation in the south of France.

Water symbolizes fertility and potentiality. It evokes the womb, the font of all life. It also represents the life force itself. In one of my various interpretations, Sarah is becoming more turned on to herself and is being slowly freed from the prison of the character that has made her a household name in England and has made her a bankable writer for her publisher. When her novel is complete, she lets her publisher know that she’s not only finished the book, but its been published by another house. The insinuation is that she prefers to be supported as an artist, and not merely as a cash cow. Her publisher was hoping for another one of her sure best-sellers. She retorts to her publisher that the new house will also in the future see titles about her beloved detective. She doesn’t hate her popular series, but it’s not all she can do nor all she wants to do as a writer and when she finally got turned on to the possibilities that her creativity and vision allowed, she naturally fled towards her savior and away from her captor.

Julie is the inspiration for Sarah’s transformation. Sarah’s encounter with Julie gives her that new storyline. Sarah embraced that new story slowly, with trepidation and even aggravation. Julie swims in the pool when it is still half-covered, a little dirty and covered in leaves. Sarah waits until the pool is completely uncovered and totally clean before she finally allows herself to venture towards the water. But when she does, she embraces the pool with a growing passion.

Julie is a trashy tart, a cogelle, which is a pejorative term for the kind of slutty, working-class southern French girl that Julie is. Julie who feels abandoned by her father and lives a rather solitary life, brings home a different man every night. I had a roommate like Julie once. A French girl from the French alps who came to America to do a lot of coke and fuck a bunch of rich guys while trying to get a visa. She had no self-respect and no center. But at the same time, she really enjoyed fucking and partying. Sarah learns a lot about her publisher through Julie and discovers that there is an entire part of his life that she knows nothing about. As Sarah learns more about Julie’s tender weaknesses and need for understanding and affection, she softens her anger and lets Julie’s summer blend with her own.

I liked the colorful cleverness of Ozon’s 8 Women but Swimming Pool is a nice return to the tone set by Under The Sand. This movie is as much about the writing process as it is about Sarah’s transformation. Julie is a static character, who, while richly drawn, beautiful, fun, sensuous and a bit dangerous, she exists to move Sarah forward. Swimming Pool is really Sarah’s story. It is an intriguing, sensual film about the difference experience makes in one’s approach to life and how the traditional inflexibility of age can give way to powerful, positive change.

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