(released July 2003)
MPAA Rating: R
Reviewed by H. W. Moss
French director François Ozon is fascinated with human perception. In "8 Women," one of 2002's top grossing films in France, no character is who they purport to be and that same bewildering series of questions
Diving into "Pool," co-written by Ozon with novelist Emmanuele Bernheim and Ozon's first film in English, seems like a straightforward leap. But the questions lurk beneath the surface and in the end we are confronted with doubt and wonder what, exactly, happened in this film?
"Pool" has an enigmatic conclusion which is not necessarily what an audience wants. But it is not as murky as "No Way Out" (1987) where there were no clues until the revelation in the final scene. If you accompany someone to a screening of "Pool," you will undoubtedly have an animated discussion about it afterward that may or may not resolve the plot.
Jaded and grumpy mystery writer Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) is sullen, surly and reactionary. Success has come at a price. Seems no one can wait for a new Inspector Dorwell book, but she wants to write something more emotional and totally different.
"I'm fed up with murders and investigation," she confides to her London publisher, John Bosland (Charles Dance). He offers advice and free use of his vacation retreat in southern France where she can breathe clean air and start the new novel. No one else will be there, although it is sometimes used by his daughter.
The change brings immediate results. In London Sarah drank whiskey in the morning, but now she disdains alcohol for tea. Her new diet is primarily large quantities of yogurt mixed with fresh fruit bought at the local outdoor market. After several days of quietude and having begun her new book, Sarah's leisure is disrupted when the house is invaded by Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) who grew up there and has dad's key.
Julie is a hedonist whose pleasures include good food, fine wine and lots of men. Her taste in men runs to all ages and types and she bounces them on the living room couch with the nonchalance and abandon of a cat in heat. She rises late, usually with a hangover, and lies around the pool all day in the French style, half or wholly naked. This is, of course, in stark contrast to Sarah's reclusive, demure, almost Spartan habits.
After a couple of run-ins with one another, the two eventually settle into a truce and become friendly, if not cozy. But Sarah has her own agenda. She invades Julie's privacy by incorporating parts of the girl's diary in her book which Julie discovers on one of her own nosy forays into Sarah's room. Julie reacts by conjuring up her own brand of revenge and the stage is set for a real murder mystery to unfold.
Ozon has a facility with the camera that is quite amusing. A number of scenes begin low, from the point of view of a person lying around the pool. Unbeknownst to the sun bather whose eyes are closed, another character has come to stand placidly beside them. We cannot know who that person is because the camera is at knee level. As the focal plane shifts and rises above the knee line, we learn who that person is and, by the third time this shot is repeated, the audience readily laughs at the revelation.
It is possible to take hints dropped in the dialogue (we learn for example that the house is in the same city as the ruined castle of the Marquis de Sade) and make them have a meaning all their own. Usually, and this is key to a good mystery, there are red herrings which lead nowhere but may be part of the resolution, so pay attention. Picking these clues over like one did with "The Sixth Sense" (1999) seems to make the plot more sensible, but the truth of that will have to remain in the mind of the beholder.
You should approach "Swimming Pool" as you might a delicious new Inspector Dorwell novel: do not take anything for granted.
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