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The Swimming Pool (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None listed as yet...

FRENCH director, François Ozon, is fast earning a reputation for himself as one of the most visually accomplished and provocative European film-makers of the moment.

His previous film, 8 Women, was a visually sumptuous throwback to the 50s-style Technicolor of the musical comedies of Vincent Minelli, that also kept viewers on their toes with a contemporary whodunit storyline, while his latest, The Swimming Pool, is another lavishly shot, but far more intimate, psychological thriller, that provides an excellent showcase for the two actresses who take centre stage.

Charlotte Rampling stars as established author, Sarah Morton, a crime writer in the Agatha Christie mode, who reluctantly accepts an offer from her editor (Charles Dance) to use his holiday home in Provence to gain some much-needed inspiration, as well as a rest.

Her idyllic retreat is thrown into chaos, however, by the arrival of her editor’s lively and promiscuous daughter, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), who constantly disrupts Morton’s enforced routine with her wild-child antics and string of boyfriends.

But what begins as a stand-offish relationship quickly blossoms into something much more between the two, as Morton uses Julie as the inspiration to write a different kind of novel, and Julie finds a mother figure in the writer - a situation which becomes complicated by a possible corpse and the rapidly blurring line between fiction and reality.

Ozon’s movie works on many levels, not least of which is the chemistry between the two women, both of whom he has worked with before.

Rampling, especially, plays the uptight Morton perfectly, moving seamlessly from the introverted loner of early scenes, to the liberated self-searcher whose dealings with Julie finally allow her to break free from the niche she has carved for herself; while Sagnier nails the requirements of playing the precocious temptress with effortless ease.

Their relationship is consistently intriguing, and thrives on its ability to surprise - particularly during the latter stages, when they are forced to put their trust in each other in order to deal with the real-life crime they suddenly find themselves caught up in.

It is rare, too, to find a sexually-charged psychological thriller that is actually worthy of both tags, given that Ozon’s film plays up the eroticism well, without ever feeling tacky or voyeuristic, while also appealing to the intellect at the same time.

The director’s use of fantasy and reality is also well-judged, forcing viewers to decide for themselves what, exactly, is true, and what is imagined, and the conclusion is such that viewers will be thinking about it for quite some time after the final credits, particularly given that the movie is rife with imagery (the swimming pool, itself, is viewed by the director as a manageable and controlled environment, unlike the ocean, which requires a person to shed their inhibitions before getting wet).

The deliberately slow pacing, particularly during the early, establishing scenes (which find Rampling alone for great periods), may deter some from unravelling its secrets, yet for those willing to take the plunge, The Swimming Pool is a deeply satisfying experience, and one which comes highly recommended.

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