Swimming Pool Review
In the French psychological drama Swimming Pool, Charlotte Rampling plays Sarah Morton, a prim, middle-aged author who specialises in murder mysteries featuring one Inspector Dorwell, a spiritual brother to Inspectors Morse, Dalgliesh, Frost and Wexford. Her latest book "Dorwell Wears A Kilt" has been another big success, despite having the worst title in the history of crime fiction, yet when Sarah visits her publisher (Charles Dance), it's to tell him she's unhappy with what she's doing. He decides she needs a break and offers her the use of his holiday home in France. Sarah accepts and finds that the beautiful, relaxed surroundings are just what she needs. She's soon at work on a new novel and her troubles are forgotten.
That is, until Julie turns up. Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) is her publisher's teenage daughter and a fiery little sex bomb she is too. She arrives unannounced in the middle of the night and tells Sarah they'll be sharing the house. Sarah tries to ignore her but the girl is given to wandering around nude and bringing men home late at night for skinny-dipping and noisy sex. It goes without saying that they hate each other yet Sarah can't help but be intrigued by the teenager. Starting by spying on her, she eventually befriends Julie and learns some disturbing things about her young housemate.
In case you're wondering why a French film has an English lead character who's not a million miles from Ruth Rendell or PD James, these quintessentially English books are very popular on the continent. Rendell's stories may be relegated to TV in Britain but in Europe she's been adapted for the big screen by directors as respected as Pedro Almodóvar (Live Flesh), Claude Chabrol (La Ceremonie) and Claude Miller (Betty Fisher). Perhaps it's as a tip of the hat to Sarah's profession that in the last half hour, Swimming Pool turns into a mystery thriller of sorts. That's when the film goes wrong for me since what works best here is the relationship between the two very different women and the crime plot kills the character development since, for that to work, we can know only so much about Sarah and Julie. I enjoyed their sparring and wanted to know more about them and see their relationship develop more credibly. The mystery is a disappointment too, with a final twist which I won't spoil but which I think has been used excessively over the past few years and has become something of a screenwriter's cop-out.
Until the last third, Swimming Pool is an absorbing drama, directed with style and measured pace by François Ozon. Charlotte Rampling, who's been enjoying a career revival across the Channel, takes an English stereotype and makes her three-dimensional. Ludivine Sagnier meanwhile gives Julie a wounded dignity beneath her adolescent desire for attention. It must also be said that the 24-year-old French actress is very easy on the eyes in her many nude scenes, which may help account for why, despite its flaws, Swimming Pool has been a surprisingly big hit. It's just a pity there isn't more to it. If you're looking for a sexy Gallic antidote to the summer blockbusters, you've found one but you'll discover its pleasures are just as superficial and fleeting.