Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Movie Review: "Swimming Pool" by David Pretty

Howdy, Film Snobz. 

I generally have an affinity for foreign flicks because their sensibilities are so far removed from formulaic North American crap.  Typically, these movies usually come part and parcel with an inborn pedigree of fresh perspectives and originality.  As such, I quite enjoyed the early goings of Francois Ozon's Swimming Pool, especially as an interesting and engaging character study.

Unfortunately, a litany of things began to happen which really unraveled the integrity of the picture for me. The more the film moved in that direction, the more I felt as if I was watching the thriller equivalent of Dallas.  At one point in time I even expected Ludivine Sagnier to step out of the shower and reveal that the entire previous 102 minutes of run time was "all just a dream".

Before I wade too far into the deep end, here's the film's trailer:

OooooOooo, scandalous! 

Charlotte Rampling plays Sarah Morton, an uptight British novelist who feels creatively bankrupt cranking out endless installments of her serial mystery series featuring the same recurring detective character. Although John Bosload (Charles Dance), her publisher, is keen to keep draining the cash cow, Sarah admits to a paralytic bout of writer's block.

To help her work through this, John offers Sarah the use of his villa in France.  But even when ensconced in such a beautiful place, Sarah still lives a mournfully regimented and sterile existence until a wild card arrives in the form of Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), John's estranged daughter.  Julie is Sarah's polar opposite: a libertine free spirit who skinny-dips in the house pool, drinks excessively and brings home a different man every night.

Slowly Julie's byzantine ways begin to have an impact on Sarah, which in turn begins to influence the course of her next novel.  After Julie commits a crime of passion, Sarah becomes like a surrogate mother to the girl and goes to tremendous lengths to shelter her from suspicion.  Frankly, this killed the film for me, which is a real shame, since up to that point I really enjoyed watching these two radically different characters develop some common ground.

To prove that we're watching a real, bona-fide thriller, a completely arbitrary violent crime occurs from out of nowhere.  Additional implausibilities begin to pile up and soon the audience can't help but feel as if writer/director Francois Ozon is trying to pull a fast one.  This begins subtly at first, but soon becomes glaringly obvious as we start to hear all the varied, ridiculous and convenient excuses preventing Sarah from making a simple phone call to John.  When the script keeps throwing up impediments preventing us from learning anything about his daughter and (even more tellingly) Julie's mother, we begin to feel as if someone pinned a "Sucker" sign on our backs.  

Given how extremely buttoned-down Sarah is shown to be, her willful complicity in the crime (which admittedly is a pretty sly wink to her chosen profession of getting rich off fictionally killing people) and her willingness to do just about anything to prevent the body from being discovered are so completely out of character you begin to suspect that what you're witnessing isn't real.  This is substantiated in the final sequence in which Sarah confronts Bosload with a new novel published by a rival company.

In addition to this neatly getting Sarah out of her career rut and excising her unrequited feelings for John, we're then subjected to a father/daughter reunion which really seems to invalidate everything that's come before it. Frankly, this destabilized the core of the film for me and rendered everything that came before it completely moot.

Despite the shortcomings of the script, I loved the performances. Charlotte Rampling's character is almost written like a caricature at first but she still succeeds admirably when asked to inch towards aping Julie's persona.

Speak of the devil, Ludevine Sagnier is suitably alluring and her uninhibited and emotionally raw performance is certainly one of the film's bright lights.

I can certainly appreciate the filmmaker's desire to comment on the artifice of creation and how the process  can be used to exorcise self-destructive impulses and allow us to ground unhealthy flights of fantasy.  But as increasingly preposterous things started to add up, I became convinced that the entire film was all for naught.  In the end I felt cold and somewhat used.  

A surprising disappointment for me.

Tilt: down.

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