Film Reviews


By • Jul 2nd, 2003 •

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Charlotte Rampling, at 58 years old, has found a director, French filmmaker Francois Ozon, who is clearly enthralled with her. Rampling knows this, since SWIMMING POOL is their second collaboration. Rampling is in very capable, confident hands (and soon U.S. actresses will make note of this). Ozon is in love with Rampling. Ozon also provokes, and takes her into territory that no Hollywood star, even one with a Demi Moore plastic surgery full body makeover, would submit to.

Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) is uptight and bored, but a best-selling murder mystery writer. Her publisher, John Bosload (Charles Dance), suggests she get away from the lousy English weather and stagnant drudgery of her empty life by going to stay at his country house in France. Interested in Bosload, she is disappointed he will not be visiting her. She holds no sexual allure for him. Unexpectedly, his teenaged sexually provocative daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) arrives at the house. Julie drops a rather fanciful hint about her father’s sexual proclivities.

Ozon’s understanding of women is foremost here. At first, Sarah is mousy and frigid. After the arrival of Julie, Sarah begins to subtly change. Sarah puts on lipstick and combs her hair. Her lighting improves. Julie is gorgeous and promiscuous and might make good, fresh material for a novelist. Sarah is aroused by the young woman’s insolence. Julie’s conquests are interesting in that she is drawn to rather ordinary, flaccid older men. She delights in flaunting her unattractive sex partners. Then she teases Sarah by bringing to the house the ruggedly masculine village waiter who has charmed Sarah. Julie invites her to spend the evening with them smoking pot, drinking, and dancing.

There will be no spoilers ahead, but unfortunately this leaves the drama, plot, and twist of the film outside the realm of discussion. Things turn ugly of course and the twist will leave everyone with a different interpretation of what happened.

Even though Sagnier is young, beautiful, and topless a lot, it is Rampling who ignites us with a blemished sexuality and inner complexity. It is a tribute to Ozon’s directorial skill that he is able to place her alongside a naked Sagnier for most of the film yet you leave thinking about Rampling. He also shows no partiality between the two women, often mirroring them in identical seductive poses. Of course, then there is Rampling’s full frontal nudity. The scene is delicious in that it tells us what Ozon thinks about men and their overriding weakness.

This is a film that celebrates the power of two very strong women. Men are sexual pawns. The plot turn is clever because it expresses what Ozon feels about men and their sexual ambition. Regardless of age and social status, men can be manipulated. The underlying message is rather bold: All women have sexual power. This startling truism, buried in our public glorification of youth and beauty, makes SWIMMING POOL a revelation.

It would take a second viewing to see if what I think happened holds up. So be advised to watch the film carefully and pay attention to casual throwaway lines. Everything is a clue to the denouement.

“Jesus is coming. Look busy.” The only thing clever about JOHNNY ENGLISH.

Sarah Morton:
Charlotte Rampling
Julie: Ludivine Sagnier
John Bosload: Charles Dance
Marcel: Marc Fayolle
Franck: Jean-Marie Lamour

Director: Francois Ozon
Screenwriters: Francois Ozon, Emmanuele Bernheim
Producers: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Director of photography: Yorick Le Saux

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