Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for nudity, sexuality, and adult themes
Run Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. In English and French with English subtitles
The essence of expectation hovers over this abstract French thriller, perfuming the air with sinister sweetness.
François Ozon (“Under the Sand”) knows pacing. From beginning to end, “Swimming Pool” is punctuated with subtly shifting bits of narrative that form a mysterious whole. The ethereal Charlotte Rampling commands the screen as Sarah Morton, a prim English crime novelist who accepts the offer of a solo vacation getaway at the French retreat of her philandering publisher (Charles Dance as John Bosload).
Seeking inspiration in the form of solitude, Sarah is more than a little dismayed when John’s insouciant daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) drops on her doorstep, hell bent on a little R and R. While Sarah doggedly stokes her creative fires, Julie takes charge of her own social and sexual needs with reckless abandon.
Eventually the pair generates an uneasy bond, born of tidbits of personal information and isolated captivity. Sarah and her stereotypical reserve are drawn to Julie’s liberating bonhomie, in which she discovers secret fodder for a new novel.
Implication and seduction heighten every last frame. Ozon blends sexual tension and quirky psychology to great advantage, setting the stage for a series of incidents that speak to the incomprehensible grey between fantasy and reality. Character transformations are flawless, so subtle as to be virtually unnoticeable.
Ozon is quoted as saying that his relentless swimming pool imagery represents a quality of falsity. Maybe so, but “Swimming Pool” is true French cinema.