Francois Ozon is a filmmaker with a gift for making imaginative homages to old genre films, and he vividly revels in the niches and nuances of the styles he appropriates.
In 2000's Fassbinder adaptation "Water Drops On Burning Rocks," he replicates every aspect of the 1970s European sex farce -- right down to the shag carpet -- with such accuracy that without a copyright date, you'd swear the movie was 30 years old. In 2002's "8 Women," he affectionately parodies Technicolor melodramas, Agatha Christie mysteries and movie musicals, nailing the aura of all three with satirical glee.
And in his seductive new English-language thriller "Swimming Pool," the writer-director subtly and masterfully hints at the picture's shadowy neo-film-noir essence even in early scenes that seem deceptively sunshiny in the south of France, where a creatively and sexually frustrated, aging British mystery novelist (Charlotte Rampling) seeks inspiration by taking a working holiday to the vibrant, vacant second home of her publisher and former lover (Charles Dance).
But as she attempts to forestall another formulaic sequel in her long over-ripe detective series, her concentration is derailed by the unannounced arrival of the publisher's disruptive daughter (Ludivine Sagnier), a slinky, tousled-hair teenage sexpot with a tendency to abandon her panties on the lawn during inebriated trysts with middle-aged men in the chateau's backyard pool (which soon becomes pivotal to the plot, as the title might lead you to suspect).
Annoyed and flustered, but soon utterly fascinated as well by the girl's self-destructive free-spiritedness, Rampling fully expects to lose all focus -- until she finds herself invigorated instead by a compulsion to pry into the psyche of this novice femme fatale. But while her snooping begets a burst of creative writing, it also sets off a chain of events that quickly turns precarious, deeply embroiling the author in the kind of suspense and intrigue she's known only in her own fiction.
Providing his two favorite actresses (both women have made memorable films for the director before) with departure roles that have a captivating culmination, Ozon's appreciation of their talents is completely contagious. A fairly young director (35) with a rare adoration of mature actresses (he's also worked with Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant and Anna Thompson) and preternatural understanding of women their age, he provides Rampling with a hardened yet vulnerable and discontented character of rich complexity.
Rampling, who received equally fine treatment from the director in 2001's "Under the Sand," a stirring drama of loss and denial, embodies the novelist's pent-up dissatisfaction with fascinating rawness and discomfort, which makes her tacit exhilaration at being caught up in the film's suspense all the more interesting.
The alluring Sagnier, who played relative innocents hiding unpredictable tenacity in both "Water Drops" and "8 Women," glows with cheeky, magnetic sensuality in her plucky performance as a mysterious woman-child whose unchecked emotional hang-ups manifest themselves in her indiscriminate come-hither charisma.
Both actresses excel as "Swimming Pool" becomes fraught with sex, danger and a plethora of potential twists from which Ozon ultimately plucks an enigmatic turn of events that's sure to stir deliberation and re-examination, as many of the most satisfying noir thrillers always have.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 21st May 2003
Box Office USA: $9.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $22.4M
Distributed by: Focus Features
Production compaines: France 2 Cinéma, Canal Plus, Fidélité Productions, Gimages, FOZ, Headforce Ltd.
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 127 Rotten: 24
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Francois Ozon
Starring: Charlotte Rampling as Sarah Morton, Ludivine Sagnier as Julie, Charles Dance as John Bosload, Jean-Marie Lamour as Franck, Marc Fayolle as Marcel, Mireille Mossé as Marcel's Daughter, Michel Fau as First Man, Jean-Claude Lecas as Second Man, Emilie Gavois-Kahn as Waitress at Cafe, Erarde Forestali as Old Man
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