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Swimming Pool
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Swimming 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 merit."

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 of itself.

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.