Review by Ed Nguyen
Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance
Director: François Ozon
Audio: French/English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English DTS
Subtitles: Spanish, French, English
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Focus Features (Universal)
Features: Deleted scenes, trailers, annoying promotional previews
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: January 13, 2004
must be mistaking me for someone else. I'm
not the person you think I am."
Ozon's Swimming Pool is the French
director's first attempt at a mainstream English language film.
Following upon the recent success of his musical-murder mystery hybrid 8
Women (2002), Ozon's new film is a quiet, introspective character study of
an English author's search for new inspiration.
That author is Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling), a frosty,
sexually-repressed middle-aged woman who has tired of her popular mystery series
and wants to explore more meaningful and personal themes for her next novel.
After speaking with her editor, John Bosload (Charles Dance), Sarah
decides to spend some time alone at his French country house.
The home will be uninhabited, and perhaps in the quiet solitude of rural
life, Sarah will find her inspiration.
leaves England and settles into the editor's country home, a stately manor with
a large lawn and backdoor swimming pool. Initially,
her days are tranquil, with hardly a soul in sight to disturb her.
In moments of boredom, she freely roams the countryside and visits the
nearby village for food, supplies, or a hot lunch at the local bistro.
Life here is, in essence, a wonderfully relaxing atmosphere.
day, however, her solitude is disturbed by a night-time intruder into the home.
The unwelcome visitor, it turns out, is Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), the
daughter of Sarah's editor. Her
sudden arrival is unexpected and perhaps disappointing for the older woman, who
had become accustomed to being alone. Furthermore,
Julie is very much Sarah's opposite, being younger, more free-spirited, and
decidedly more sexually-liberated. The
morning after her arrival, Julie removes the protective covering from the
manor's swimming pool and cleans the pool.
Julie has come, as Sarah fears, to stay for a while.
two women do not initially get along very well. In Julie's opinion, Sarah is too uptight, like a witch with
"a broomstick up her butt." Julie
even bluntly accuses Sarah of being "just a frustrated English woman who
writes about dirty things but never does them."
For her part, Sarah frowns heavily upon Julie's promiscuity, although
Sarah is not entirely on superior morale grounds (the film alludes to a past
adulterous relationship between Sarah and her editor).
Sarah is seen rummaging through Julie's room or reading her diary and
always observing Julie from afar, whether from the balcony as Julie swims or
through windows when she is with another man.
Some of this behavior may be the inherently inquisitive mind of a writer
seeking to understand a possible role model for a character.
But, on a more personal level, it is evident of Sarah's unspoken jealousy
of Julie's youth, her sexuality, and her openness, all qualities which Sarah
lacks or has lost.
role is perhaps a bit thankless. Sarah
initially comes across as a not-particularly pleasant woman.
Her facial features are continually taut, as though she were wearing a
frequent scowl upon her face. She
is snappish and even a bit arrogant, as though her financial success has somehow
granted her the right to act rudely. Sarah
seems socially isolated, more comfortable with isolation than in the company of
people. It is only very late in the
film that Sarah becomes more affable, but by the time of her transformation,
many viewers may have forsaken her altogether.
is the more intriguing character. She
is sexually-charged and not afraid to use her physicality to her own advantage.
There is a quiet sadness about her whose source is only gradually
revealed, but this mystery makes her the more sympathetic of the two characters.
It is Julie's subconscious insecurity which eventually draws Sarah to her
and which helps to alleviate the tension between both women.
Pool is an
introspective film in which almost as much information is communicated visually
and metaphorically as through dialogue. In
fact, the film's swimming pool,
part of the country manor, is itself a symbol - a mirror or reflection, in a
a "French" film, the story is at its strongest during the first half,
when it concentrates upon the uneasy relation between Sarah and Julie.
It is in these passages of character study that the film excels.
Unfortunately, just as the film hits its full stride, it takes a misstep.
The concluding act is a bit disappointing in how it seems to betray all
the film's previous efforts in carefully establishing a realistic and intriguing
relationship between the two women. In
short, Swimming Pool inexplicably metamorphoses into a weird generic
thriller in a finale that feels superimposed, fake, and unconvincing.
It is a common flaw of most Hollywood films, although one might have
wished that Swimming Pool could have
avoided this trapping.
film's saving grace is a subtle ending that paints the entire finale in a
different light, causing the viewer to re-examine his or her own misconceptions
of the film's final act. Attentive
viewers will probably discern the truth long before the conclusion, but at least
the ending offers a very plausible explanation for the film's sudden change in
course. Nevertheless, perhaps the
filmmakers could have sought a different but more reasonable manner in which to
communicate their message. As it
is, viewers must not give up on the film and should watch it in its entirety.
Despite some flaws in its concluding act, Swimming
Pool is truly a mesmerizing and absorbing film that successfully blends for
the most part the character strengths of European cinema with the plot-driven
narratives of conventional Hollywood films.
TRIVIA: Both Rampling and Sagnier
had worked previously with Ozon in 8 Women.
Their characters in that film were radically different, with Rampling as
a sexually-liberated woman and Sagnier as innocent and virtuous young girl!
presented in a color, anamorphic widescreen format.
In general, the transfer looks quite good, with natural skin tones and
clear, detailed images. Dark scenes
exhibit no image break-up. All in
all, this is a fine transfer.
Pool can be
heard in either a French or English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track. Regardless, both French and English are spoken throughout the
film anyways (with subtitles available). In
addition, people with DTS systems may choose an English DTS audio option.
As with all DTS soundtracks, this track sounds quite superb although not
particularly different from the Dolby Digital tracks.
I question the need for a DTS audio track for this film, which is mostly
quiet with scattered dialogue sequences (the extra space could have been used
for more bonus features). Nevertheless,
Swimming Pool sounds quite marvelous,
no matter the audio track. Ambience
sounds are well-mixed, and dialogue is always clear.
Features has apparently decided to re-introduce a very bad idea into its DVDs.
Uniformly, all its DVDs start with several lengthy minutes of completely
unavoidable promo ads and trailers. The
only method for by-passing these trailers is to fast-forward through
them to the main menu. Frankly,
this is simply a despicable marketing scheme that I'd hope had been eradicated
with the early Disney DVDs. Apparently
not. On the bright side, Focus
Features makes excellent dramas, and the trailers in this unfortunate opening
preview include those for such films as 21
Grams, Sylvia, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
moving along, there are several deleted scenes (totaling around twelve minutes)
included on this disc. Mostly,
these scenes involve Sarah Morton wandering the countryside and exploring the
locales, perhaps searching for her inspiration.
is also a ridiculous trailer that portrays the film as a suspense
murder-mystery. Promoting this film
as a thriller is, of course, very misleading.
It is a drama about the relationship between an older woman and a younger
woman and how their interactions change each other's lives.
That is how the film should
have been marketed.
this film is available on DVD in either an R-rated or unrated version.
I reviewed the unrated version, which presumably has several seconds of
additional footage of a sexual nature not seen in the R-rated disc.
The difference is likely to be miniscule at best.