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Movie Review

Swimming Pool

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Directed by François Ozon, starring Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier and Charles Dance.

A tetchy crime novelist (Rampling), hit by writer's block after a string of successful whodunnits, is dispatched to the South of France by her editor (Dance) for a spell of rural relaxation. After escaping the apparent dreariness of her everyday life in England, she soon finds herself happily ensconced in a sunlit world complete with renewed enthusiasm for her work. That is until the unexpected arrival of Julie (Sagnier), her editor's provocative and promiscuous daughter.

Coming in the wake of his technicolour, kitsch 'Eight Women', this is at first glance a simpler undertaking for Ozon, albeit filmed in English. However, from a glorious evocation of life in Provence to much lingering over the female form, this is just as visually lavish a film in its own way. Essentially a chamber piece, 'Swimming Pool' is an exquisitely acted power struggle that revolves around the notion that opposites both repel and attract. And so, a frustrated older woman is pitted against her hedonistic young nemesis with dramatic, eventually shocking, consequences.

The eponymous swimming pool acts as a metaphor for sensuality and liberation as well as an excuse to shoot the two female leads in as little as possible, as often as possible. Rampling and Sagnier spark well off each other, gradually forming a bond despite their apparent differences, each coming to recognise the other's creative potential. But this is no female equivalent of the buddy movie.

The plot, ostensibly about an author trying to get some work done in spite of the noisy, night time activities of her housemate, toys with an unconventional artist-muse relationship and revels in the endless contrasts between the two women. But something else is going on. Ozon teases out the sinister elements of the tale with perfect pacing and delights in disorientating the viewer as the lines between fiction, fantasy and reality blur. As the movie becomes more delirious, the viewer is increasingly unnerved.

A brilliant, drunken dance scene, complete with a handsome local waiter being used as a pawn, manages to capture the protagonists' mutual fascination, sexual anxiety and venom with memorable results. 'Swimming Pool' is a faultlessly played drama with hints of mystery, deliberate ambiguity and a few doses of black comedy thrown in. Sophisticated, sexy, seductive.

Siobhán Mannion

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