Swimming Pool Review
History has taught us that the French are very proud of their heritage and customs, often going to war with us English in order to protect their name and prove their supremacy. I therefore find it very strange that the French film Swimming Pool, co-written and directed by François Ozon, is shot mainly in English – as well as starring Charlotte Rampling in the lead role, and featuring scenes in dreary England before the real action begins.
That isn't to say Swimming Pool is not a French film; from the sun-drenched locales to the positively Gallic characters, Ozon has created a tourist brochure for the south of France, glorious lifestyle included. The plot involves disillusioned author Sarah Morton (Rampling), whose recent run of successes with her novels has left her without an idea in her head nor the inclination to really think up one. She still has a passion for writing, buried deeply within her, but she needs something to unlock the door and allow her creative juices to flow. Her publisher John (Charles Dance) offers her the chance to escape to his French villa for a relaxing break, with the hope that the scenery and calmness will inspire her at last, as well as quipping how "it has a pool". Arriving there after agreeing to the proposition, she is met by Marcel (Marc Fayolle), who soon becomes an admirer of the quiet and unassuming novelist. Sarah soon becomes mortified when she discovers John's young daughter, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), arriving at the villa in the middle of the night, ruining her chances of a peaceful stay – especially when Julie struts around topless and engages in noisy sex each night with a different man. But just how different are the two women?
The film was a mild success in the UK, but word of mouth has been snowballing in various other countries, including its native France of course. Best described as a soft erotic thriller, Swimming Pool begins as a slow-burning drama about a middle-aged woman approaching her twilight years with little hope or aspirations. As she remarks to her publisher, she has no interest in money or success, she just enjoys writing…so when she's unable to think up a new plot, her attitude deteriorates and the chance to escape London for sunny France is the perfect cure. As we see her settling in to the villa, it's clear Sarah is an organised and particular woman, independent yet probably also very lonely. Her profession is the perfect way to escape from reality, engaging in a world of detectives and murder stories, far from her own existence.
Julie, however, is the perfect juxtaposition compared to Sarah's reserved character; a free and somewhat rebellious young adult whose sexual forays and body hide her inner pain and hurt. The first time the audience sees the two characters do share similarities is the revelation that Julie has her own demons too, something that creates a bond between the women, by-passing a generation gap the size of the Grand Canyon. Although Sarah's original reaction to Julie is one of contempt, something awakens her old self and it seems that back in her youth she was a similar individual to Julie – and in this respect Ozon turns juxtaposition into irony.
Rampling and Sagnier spar off each other superbly, acting as enemies to begin with but slowly warming to each other's taste and attitude. In fact, Rampling's Sarah even tries to mother Sagnier's Julie at times, as well as resorting to some similar tactics in order to succeed. Rampling's portrayal of a sour woman is spot-on, reflecting the character's muted pain that bubbles to the surface frequently. Likewise, Sagnier not only shows she is a talented actress but also excellent eye candy, showing off more than a fair share of flesh. The (few) other cast members create a good ensemble, although the majority of the film's action is focused on the two female leads.
Ozon's direction and Yorick Le Saux's cinematography revel in the beauty of the location and steamy sexual tension on-screen, showcasing an idyll summer resort as well as allowing a phantom menace to run as an undercurrent. The script, written by Ozon and Emmanuèle Bernheim, is a good character study, but the climax is the main flaw of the film – the final 15 minutes or so become Lynchian-esque, spoiling the tone of the film and creating a sting in the tail that leaves too many questions and too few answers. Nevertheless, Swimming Pool manages to entertain for the majority and is well worth seeing…but be warned, repeat viewings may be needed to clarify just what the hell happens!
Available for some time on R1 and in France, there has been two different editions circulating as well – an uncut version and one that trims some full frontal nudity. Fortunately this R2 UK release is of the uncut, director's version.
The menus are excellent, making use of the engaging score and featuring a mellow swimming pool design. They are very easy to navigate.
Swimming Pool is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks excellent – vibrant and well defined colours, a crisp and clear print replicated by a spot-on transfer with no visible signs of compression artefacts. For a film of a relatively low budget this is very impressive, and stands alongside many modern Hollywood releases. It has been said that the R2 French version features some ugly macro blocking in night time scenes (due to not enough disc space being used), but I found no such problems on my setup.
Two soundtracks are present and correct: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) and a 2.0 Stereo version, again in English. As mentioned above, this is a French film shot almost entirely in English, so the English soundtrack is the definitive mix for the film and is how Ozon wishes the film to be viewed. The soundtrack is accomplished, making good use of the front channels to produce crisp dialogue and the occasional sound effect, although the surrounds and LFE channel are hardly ever used, which is an obvious drawback. The R2 French version also boasts an English DTS soundtrack in place of the 2.0 Stereo mix, as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS French soundtracks, but I honestly don't think this is the sort of film to benefit from such mixes (considering it is very much dialogue-driven), so this disc's soundtrack certainly does the best possible job.
The extras included on this R2 UK edition are missing some from the 2-disc French release, and both editions are missing an audio commentary that was originally announced – a shame considering the puzzling nature of the film. Read on for the extras present on this disc, which will be followed by a quick rundown on what is missing.
Things kick off with two interviews, presented separately: one with Charlotte Rampling and the other with Ludivine Sagnier. The former lasts for around 5 minutes and shows that the actress herself isn't the most radiant presence, although her cinematic experience and love for Ozon is evident from the off. It's fairly interesting, if a little too short, and even mentions Charles Dance's appearance and why he deserves to be such a revered English talent. The interview with Sagnier is a more entertaining watch, not just because she is looking as glowing as ever, and she goes into detail for her preparation for the role and attitude towards the nude scenes. It lasts for roughly the same time.
Nearly three minutes' worth of footage from the Cannes unveiling of the film is included, and basically features Ozon, Rampling and Sagnier posing for the photographers and being welcomed into the screening. Worth watching to see all the glitz and glamour, but ultimately rather pointless.
Three galleries are on offer – a photo gallery and two poster galleries, showcasing the early and complete versions of the theatrical posters. It is worth noting that the UK poster, which has been used for this DVD release, is vastly inferior when compared to the others – in particular the French version.
The theatrical trailer and French teaser trailer are included, alongside a bizarre promo reel that runs for 7 minutes and effectively shows the entire film's plot development in one concise chunk…
MIA from this UK release is four deleted scenes, a 20-minute Q&A session with the director and two stars and the French theatrical trailer. The UK release is also presented on just one disc, whereas the French edition is a 2-disc collector's edition.
The film is a perplexing and enjoyable viewing experience, even though it can be frustrating at the end as the viewer tries to fathom what exactly occurred during the previous 98 minutes. I do recommend seeing it, however, and this R2 UK release is good enough for a rental, and a purchase if the price is right. The R2 French edition boasts more extras and the choice of DTS soundtracks, if that appeals, but the improved video quality and presence of subtitles will no doubt sway the majority of viewers to this edition.