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The Cinematic Katzenjammer: July 10: Swimming Pool

Tuesday

July 10: Swimming Pool

"A British mystery author visits her publisher's home in the South of France, where her interaction with his unusual daughter sets off some touchy dynamics."
Directed by: Fran├žois Ozon, Rated: NC-17, 102 minutes

Swimming Pool is a slow burning film that never fully delivers. It's an erotic thriller that focuses way too much on the nudity, almost in an attempt to distract you from the plot. Very little actually goes on, story-wise, and a lot of what's happening leaves you somewhat puzzled. You think, "What's the point to all of this?". And while it's certainly not confusing, it's incredibly mundane. Swimming Pool is a fine example of something that could have been great, if only a few things had been tweaked the slightest. Instead of being some artful masterpiece, it instead becomes an art-house wannabe that tries way too hard to be profound with as little of effort as possible. 

Get it? It's lazy. Like this dude, thus the picture. 

Swimming Pool tells the story of a writer named Sarah (Charlotte Rampling) who has a case of writer's block. Her publisher sends her to France, where she can stay at one of his quiet little homes and focus on her new book. While there, Sarah runs into Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), her publisher's daughter who's staying at the house as well. Julie is the young, sexy party girl who brings home a different guy every night and walks around naked most of the time. Her "outgoing" personality rubs Sarah the wrong way and the two's cohabitation becomes a toll on the writer. Sarah's not particularly fond of Julie's lifestyle, as she's quite the stuck up snob who, I can only assume, sees sex as merely a means of reproduction, not pleasure. The two woman are polar opposites, but of course, as the film progresses, they begin to bond in the most unusual of ways. Sarah sees how troubled the girl really is and she nosily attempts to discover the root of all of Julie's problems. Although the first part of the film makes you curious about the two women and the dynamic between them, the second half fails to deliver any answers to questions raised and really leaves you wondering what just happened. The two characters are both certainly interesting, but the way they come together just doesn't make sense. While there is no indication of how much time passes at the home (I can assume it's not too long) the fact two completely different people bond so well, so quickly, feels more like weak storytelling than anything else. 

Fifty-One Shades of Gray 

Swimming Pool is not all bad, however. The two leading ladies both give great performances and are completely believable in their respective roles. Rampling pulls of the hoity toity Sarah incredibly well and you really think she's some self-righteous b**ch. She's never all that likable, but her slow metamorphosis is intriguing to watch. Sagnier is perfect as Julie, a character a little too comfortable with her sexuality and uses it to mask a vulnerable and hurt woman. Also, seeing her naked for most of the movie isn't a bad thing. I guess, speaking of which, the visuals are also very good. Director Fran├žois Ozon captures the beauty of a quiet little French town and the villa in which the film takes place. Swimming Pool is vibrant and contrasts well with the rather plain storytelling. Each scene is setup like a work of art, with every shot featuring Julie being a pose for a painting. Although this looks good for the most part, there are some scenes that don't need the "art effect" attached and actually make the film come off as rather pretentious. 

I guess everything now and days is "deserving" of such frilly, artsy effects.

In the end, I'd suggest skipping Swimming Pool. While it's nowhere near terrible, it simply isn't a satisfying film. The ending is incredibly weak and leaves too much up to interpretation, as though the writers wanted it to remain ambiguous enough to seem intelligible, without having to commit to any specific conclusion. Had the script been stronger (ironic when the film's about a bestselling writer), Swimming Pool could certainly be considered a little gem of European cinema. Luckily, Swimming Pool is saved from the depths of the awful and unwatchable by the two lead performances. But, even then it still leaves you wading in the shallow end, never letting you get too deeply invested in what is going on. 

The Good:
solid performances by the two leading women who encompass their characters completely
The Bad:
lack of a solid voice in the narrative, never knowing where to go or how to wrap things up
The Ugly:
realizing that the movie is much more artsy-drama than it is award-drama and that a lot of what's happening on screen is merely staged to look good and not actually be good

Overall: 5.5/10

Trailer:
Re-watch? No thanks
Buy? Never

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