Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Pool is both written and directed by François Ozon, who
made it into the independent international mainstream last year
with Eight Women, but whose eminent career includes a few other
movies that have received international notice, such as Under
the Sands and Water Drops on Burning Rocks. He uses two of his
favorite actresses too: Sarah Morton, a middle-aged English
detective fiction writer, and Ludivine Sagnier, the young up-and-coming
divette who held her own next to France's finest in Eight Women
and who will next play the role of Tinkerbell in Peter Pan.
Sagnier is Julie, the nineteen year-old daughter of Morton's
publisher, John (played by Charles Dance). Feeling somewhat
neglected by her publisher in favor of younger authors, Sarah
goes to see John-on whom she has a crush-to express her dissatisfaction.
He suggests that she spend some time away from London in his
French country villa, which she decides to do. It's clear from
their exchange that she's the kind of writer who cranks out
money-making genre prose, high on plot, low on "artistic
The whole movie then proceeds to meditate-the way Ozon always
seems to do-on the question of genre, sorting through the various
cinematic and literary genres to which this French vacation-romance-whodunit
film belongs. There's lots of early Godard and, as ever, what
Ozon does with verisimilitude (how true to life seeming the
story is) and outright fantasy is a fascinating mystery in and
Julie, John's French daughter, shows up unexpectedly to stay
at the house and proceeds extravagantly to symbolize Sarah's
opposite: she is youthful, unabashedly sexual, experimental,
and indulgent, where Sarah is repressed, ascetic, conservative
and cynical. An interesting relationship develops between the
two women that includes touches of Harlequin romance and murder
mystery. By the time the plot turns decidedly implausible, we
see just how much we've been fooled, lulled into suspension
of disbelief by the conventions of filmic naturalism. Sure,
there are a few identifiable fantasy sequences, but Ozon doesn't
mark them in some of the obvious conventional ways (fade-outs,
soft or out-of-focus moments, dissolves, etc.). So when it all
hits us, we're left scrambling to cobble together what might
have been the "real" story. And, with further homage
to genre pastiche, the novel Sarah succeeds in writing while
in France-a semi-romantic departure from her previous work-is,
of course, the Swimming Pool.
One of the things I love about Ozon is that he loves and identifies
with women. His stories are gleefully anti-patriarchal and all
about the perfectly understandable revenge fantasies women have.
Women triumph at the expense of the pater familias, and this
does not, as in most US films, cause the order of things to
collapse and chaos to ensue. Rather, life goes on, with a wink
and a nod. I like the sense of humor in Ozon's films, and Swimming
Pool is no exception.
If you like your loose ends tied up, this movie will irritate
and annoy you. But if you are willing to take a joke, ready
to enjoy generic pastiche, or even just happy to watch Rampling
and Sagnier engage in some very fine acting, Swimming Pool is
a refreshing departure from the usualsummer fare.
Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang,
this is Carla Freccero.