movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: Another great spoiler/review sent in by cmzapffe.
I will grant that those who see "Swimming Pool," French director Francois Ozon's first movie in English, will discuss, perhaps argue over, which of the multiple versions of reality is the true one in this movie long after they have left the theater.
However, I do not particularly care for movies that offer conflicting versions of reality. They end up being a mind game for the theater audience as well as being, I would suggest, a cinematic conceit on the part of the writer/director. It all ends up being rather unsatisfactory, like a fine dinner without a desert.
Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) and Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) play the yin and yang of passion, two polar opposites, one a middle aged repressed English novelist of popular detective stories and the other a wild, young spirit of free love whose amoral activities culminate in a murder. Or perhaps not. And Morton, being an amateur criminologist, helps Julie cover up the murder. Or perhaps not.
Morton starts off her vacation at her publisher's villa in the south of France with one novel in progress. She starts a second one as an ode to voyeurism similar to Hitchcock's "Rear Window"(1954) after the arrival of the sexually adventurous Julie, her publisher's illegitimate daughter. And then she is later handed the manuscript for a third novel that she is free to claim as her own. But perhaps she is really living her own fourth novel while on vacation.
We never find out which novel she completes and hands to her publisher, so we also are left in the dark as to which is the reality and which is the mystery, or the mysteries, in the writing.
It goes without saying that Charlotte Rampling is a superb actress and that Ludivine Sagnier is every bit her equal in her screen presence as the embodiment of youthful, tempestuous eroticism. But Ozon has made this film with his characters separate from the audience as we are never allowed to become emotionally involved with them. We remain in our theater seats and they stay on the screen at their cool emotional distance. This is certainly a flaw in his filming technique and perhaps also in his story telling.
The high and the low points of "Swimming Pool" end up canceling each other out to give us a flawed film that is more an incomplete work in progress than a completed jewel of the cinema. There is no comparison between this movie and that of his fellow compatriot, Patrice Leconte, whose "Man on the Train" is a masterpiece of both story telling and film making.
Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) is riding the train to her publisher's London office when suddenly a women across from her reading a book notices that it is Morton's picture on the back cover. With childish enthusiasm, she calls to Morton to introduce herself. Rather shockingly, Morton coldly puts her down by denying that she is the author and then she suddenly gets up and leaves the train.
At her publisher's office, she is informed by the secretary that he, John Bosload (Charles Dance) is in, but that he is with another client, a young new "fave" author whose first novel has been a hit with the public. Bosload notices that she is in a fit of pique at having had to wait and accuses her of being jealous of his new client. That's silly, he tells her, as she has been pumping out crime novels without a break for 20 years and that she can't spend all the money that she has made.
On the spur of the moment, Bosload offers Morton the use of his summer villa in the south of France for a getaway recuperative vacation where she will be able to work without interruption on her new novel.
Now, here is where it first gets tricky. On the face of it, this would seem to be a normal offer of a well to do publisher to one of his valued clients. But is there more to it than that? Perhaps Bosload really wants to help Morton or perhaps he is tired of her post menopausal bitchiness. Left unspoken, but clearly implied, is the assumption that these two may have been lovers many years before and now Bosload still has his wife and a daughter while Morton has been left with only a senile lush of a father for whom she is responsible. Or perhaps this meeting never even took place but is merely the setup for Sarah Morton's new novel.
Arriving by bullet train at the small French town, Sarah is met by Marcel, Bosload's house keeper and all around handyman who will chauffeur her to his villa. The house itself, while close enough to the village to be accessible by a foot path, is remarkably private as it is hidden by large trees and a wall that shelters the estate. Other than the spacious house, the main feature of the property is the very large, covered swimming pool just beneath the balcony of the bedroom that Sarah has claimed for her own.
As if to emphasize her somewhat churlish and Scrooge-ish nature, Morton removes the cross hanging above the bed and throws it into the night stand. She hooks up her lap top computer with the requisite French electrical couplings and quickly gets down to work.
Unlike dreary, rainy England, it is sunny and warm in southern France and life is a dream punctuated by productive efforts at writing along with quick trips into the village for supplies along with a daily lunch and an afternoon tea. Sarah settles into the pleasant habit of lunching at a local bistro with service provided by a tall, handsome waiter, Franck (Jean-Marie Lamour), who attracts her with his air of casual masculine charm and friendliness.
Relaxing by the unopened pool is not her thing, as she doesn't swim. Besides, the pool looks messy with lots of dead leaves floating around on the top of the pool cover. Little does Sarah realize that that this pool is a metaphor for her life, which will soon also become very messy.
Awakened late one evening by an unfamiliar noise that obviously has occurred too close by, Sarah is shocked soon afterwards to hear the sounds of someone moving about downstairs inside the house. Wielding a lamp stand in her hand for protection, Sarah sneaks down in her nightgown, only to find a very pretty young girl stretched out on the living room couch.
The young girl, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), turns out to be Bosload's daughter and she has left her job for a sabbatical at her father's villa. She is just as surprised to find Sarah there as Sarah is to see her there. Julie's mother, a Frenchwoman, no longer lives with Bosload and now lives somewhere nearby in the south of France.
Julie is an irresponsible free spirit of a girl who wants only to have a good time. Her idea of life at the villa includes sleeping late with the newest stranger that she has bedded for the evening, a long afternoon of sun tanning by the pool with loud music in the background,
and then off to another evening of bar hopping in a search for someone else to bring back to the house for a midnight swim and a sexual coupling in or near the pool. The latter activity requires the handyman services of Marcel, and Julie soon tells him to open and clean the pool.
In spite of her youth and her beauty, Julie's taste in men runs more towards the bottom of a very slimy barrel as she drags home a train of losers, late night pub crawlers and other assorted ne'er-do-wells.
Sarah is infuriated by this noisy invasion and calls Bosload to complain, only to find out that he is unavailable. Julie is equally upset by this crimp in her plans for a free wheeling lifestyle and confides to one of her lovers that Morton is that "English bitch with a broomstick stuck up her ass."
Sarah threatens to "rat" on Julie to her father, and Julie replies that she doesn't care as her father is very much like her when it comes to casual sex. In fact, she had originally assumed Sarah to be one of Bosload's mistresses when they had first met late that one evening.
The two settle into an uneasy relationship with an agreement not to annoy the other too much. However, Sarah is awakened every night by Julie's returning home with another amour as the two frolic in the lighted pool right beneath Sarah's bedroom window. Surprisingly, her annoyance takes a sudden and dramatic turn towards voyeuristic curiosity and she secretively begins to spy on Julie's frequent sexual couplings.
A black eye seen one morning is explained away by Julie with the answer that she is a tough cookie who gives as much as she gets and that men had better not cross her.
Deciding that there is the potential for a novel here, Sarah opens up a new folder in her laptop and titles it, "Julie." One day she finds a pair of blue panties casually left on the lawn and brings them back to her room. She knows them to be Julie's as it is common practice for her to throw her clothes off with gay abandon each night before jumping naked into the swimming pool with her lovers.
Unfortunately for Sarah, Julie discovers her blue panties, which Sara had innocently left on the bureau. "Why didn't you return them?" she demands. Now suspicious, Julie sneaks into Sarah's room one afternoon while she is in town having lunch and discovers the folder titled, "Julie," next to Sarah's laptop with up to date descriptions of all her late night sexual activities.
It seems that there might be a cat and mouse game where the roles are reversed, but suddenly everything becomes much more serious as one evening Julie's pickup turns out to be Franck, the very same waiter whom Sarah had found to be so attractive. Julie and Franck start drinking and dancing downstairs, and then Julie encourages Sarah to dance with Franck to the throbbingly loud music of "Just Do It."
The tables turn once again as both of them get into it and both seem to be enjoying themselves much more than Julie had planned. Or desired. After all, she is the young and beautiful and sexy one. And Julie is definitely not into the voyeur thing the way Sarah now is.
The music ends and Julie takes Franck down to the pool for a swim. While in the pool, she attempts to please him by performing oral sex on him. Sarah, jealously observing all this from her room, picks up a small stone and throws it into the pool. The splash distracts Franck and he loses interest in Julie's efforts to please him, much to her chagrin. She had wanted to seduce him as she knew that Sarah would not so secretly be watching from above.
Now angry, Julie loses it and picks up a small boulder and smashes it against the young man's head. Hitting him again and again, it is certain that Franck is now lifeless so she drags the body to a nearby shed.
Somehow, Sarah is not a witness to this and her suspicions aren't aroused until the next day when she finds splatters of blood on the pool deck. Julie does not have a sufficiently appropriate explanation for this, and Sarah rushes off to the bistro, where she finds out that Franck has not shown up for work. Now concerned, she finds out where he lives and takes the scooter that came with the villa and scoots over to his flat. He's not there, and a neighbor tells Sarah that she hasn't seen him recently and that he doesn't have any immediate family living nearby.
Now very concerned, she looks up Marcel's address in the telephone book. Somehow, she feels that he may offer some clues as to who this young woman is and where her mother might be. After knocking on the door to Marcel's home, Sarah is surprised to see a very short, elderly woman (Mireille Mossé), actually a dwarf, answer the door. Assuming her to be Marcel's wife, Sarah states as much. The woman, who looks old far beyond her years, looks hurt and insulted and says that, no, she is not Marcel's wife but is rather his daughter. She goes on to surprise Sarah further by stating in no uncertain terms that Julie's mother has been dead for some time.
It is almost nightfall when Sarah returns home on the scooter. She finds Julie collapsed in tears in the living room. Arousing herself, she inexplicably rushes over to Sarah and throws her arms around her and cries, "Thank God, you came back!" One can only assume a hysteria brought on by smoking weed all afternoon long to get over her guilty conscience.
Now the story takes another twist. Sarah discovers Franck's bloody body in the shed and tells Julie that they will have to get rid of it. "How?" Julie asks, "Are you a policeman?" "No, but I think like one," Sarah replies. They spend the night burying the body in the gravel in the rear of the yard. Sarah tells Julie that they must do everything as normal, as if nothing had happened, so as not to arouse suspicion.
The next day Julie has left the house and Sarah spies Marcel in his groundskeeping duties looking suspiciously at the disturbed soil where Franck's body is buried. He stoops to examine the site and Sarah decides desperate action is necessary. She goes to the balcony, opens her blouse to reveal her breasts, and then calls to Marcel.
Looking up in rapt astonishment as if he had been kissed by an angel, Marcel hobbles up to the bedroom and starts rapturously to fondle Sarah's nude body lying supinely on the bed.
Julie later returns and confides in Sarah that she will be leaving. She also tells her that her mother had split from Bosload many years before. Her mother had written a novel, for which Bosload, rather than encouraging her, had badly put her down. Furthermore, he refused to publish it as being far too sentimental. She had burnt the original book but had hidden a copy which Julie now gives to Sarah, and says, "Take it; it's yours to own and to publish."
Sarah returns to London and much later to Bosload. Upon entering his office, she drops a newly published book on his desk. The title of the book is "Swimming Pool," but we do not know which story it entails. She slyly tells Bosload that she knew that he would not publish this book as it is too far afield from her normal detective genre, so she had given her manuscript to another publisher. Bosload now has an autographed copy.
Bosload's secretary rings in and tells him that his daughter is here to see him. Sarah leaves in smug triumph just as Bosload's daughter, Julia (Lauren Farrow), enters and gives her dad an affectionate hug. She is much younger than Julie, in fact a mere teenager still wearing braces, but, like Julie, she is also a blonde.
Is she his only real daughter and the other only a figment of Sarah's imagination? Most likely not, as Marcel's knowledge of Julie confirms her identity as a daughter to Bosload. It is most likely that Bosload kept the French villa for visits with his mistress and that Marcel would probably not know who Julia is were she to show up one day. But Ozon leaves Sarah Morton's final look back at Bosload and his daughter as having a hint of question to it so that we are still left a little bit uncertain as to what the reality is here as we are everywhere else.