Not so Diabolique
** This review may contain spoilers ** ** See below **
There are movies that belong to the screenwriter (anything by Mannet), the star (any Adam Sandler flick), or sometimes the director (Coppola comes to mind). Then there is a movie like Swimming Pool. It really belongs to no one. There is a strong directorial hand, a gifted lead performance, and a tight (albeit not dense) script. But none of these really emerge as champion of this picture.
Charlotte Rampling plays Sarah Morton, a British serial author who writes about crime. Morton is stuck. Bored with her character and her series, she needs to break away. Her publisher allows her to use his house in France. There is a hint of a past romance in Morton's conversation with the publisher and he side steps her questions about joining her in France by blaming his daughter.
Morton heads to France and for the next reel of film, we are taken on a standard European Holiday. Morton recharges quickly, enjoys the sun on her face, steals long gazes at the local garcon, takes walks, and genuinely seems comfortable with herself.
With this set up, we could be in for an over the top psychological thriller or stalker movie, but Francois Ovon does not take us there. Instead he introduces the character of Julie, played by Ludivine Sagnier. Julie is the publisher's daughter. Julie is nearly everything that Sarah is not - young, nubile, naked, lustful, passionate, and a swimming pool lover. Julie is taking a break from working and returning to the village for her own recharging.
Julie sleeps with many men. Sarah is annoyed at first because she felt she was making progress on her writing. But slowly, she takes an interest in Juliie. She is fascinated by the young women's murky past and even attempts to befriend her. In one clever scene the director replays something from a lustful Channel No 5 ad. Julie is sunbathing by the side of the pool with her eyes closed. The garcon from town stands above her full of lust. After Sarah's interest in Julie, we see the same scene, but this time it is Sarah's body that the camera pans slowly from toe to head and the man standing beside her is not the virile garcon, but the older gardener. Clever and poignant, we begin to see how Sarah wants to be Julie - even if it is just in her mind.
The Swimming Pool unfolds at a precise, slow pace. Even the larger, suspensful moments are reserved and muted. This is obvously Ovon's choice or the material itself. A murder takes place. Julie kills the garcon. Sarah becomes motherly, taking control of the situation, leading the secret burial, and comforting Julie. Putting this behind them, Sarah returns to London with her finished book and Julie goes off to rejoin the work force.
The soundrack is very Hitchcockian. It springs forth at odd times and sets a mood for suspense. But there is just as much quiet time in the movie as there is for music. A lot of attention is placed on the realism of the movie. For instance, when Sarah pulls out her laptop to begin work, you hear the fans and the hum of a laptop to small for the case it is in. Normally, this sound would have not made the final cut. It's not something that would be required in an American film. Likewise, the small bubble printer Sarah brings with her seems almost too loud until you realize that Sarah and Julie are alone in their world and this solitude and serenity is what they are both seeking.
** Spoilers below **
To finish off the movie with a rehash of Dr Caligari's Cabinet was slightly disappointing. I'm not sure how I would have finished the movie. I'm fairly convinced that Sarah made Julie up from the very beginning because the real Julie does not even recognize Sarah from the publisher's office. Usually, the "whole thing was just a dream" is a sign of confusion. Mix in the superfluous dwarf daughter of the gardener, and you wonder if the script needed another rewrite. Slightly twisting at the end doesn't save this movie. The movie works pretty well on it's own. The performances are strong, the cinematograhpy is well done, but something (or the absence of something) left me unsatisfied.
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