Ludivine Sagnier). A tailor-made distraction in human form, the lissome, seemingly carefree Julie couldn’t on the surface be more at odds with the prudish Sarah, who’s bothered as much by her young housemate’s pert breasts as by her drinking coffee from bowls. A feather caught up in the breeze of life, Julie whiles away her time swimming and sunbathing, sometimes in an art-deco bikini but just as often in nothing at all. She also exhibits a rapacious sexual appetite that she sates with the swarthiest of men.
If Julie represents youth’s arrogance and natural, anything-goes inquisitiveness, Sarah proves to be curious too; she spies on Julie, discovers her diary and eventually starts keeping a running sidebar narrative on her computer that she uses to infuse her novel with fresh blood. Against her better judgment, Sarah’s maternal instinct is also triggered when she finds a pair of Julie’s panties in the lawn and Julie doesn’t immediately return home one night. Julie, for her part, eventually comes into clearer focus as a much more complex figure than Sarah ever gives her credit for. So… maybe this odd couple has a few things in common after all.
Swimming Pool’s muted tone hearkens back to a previous metaphysical meditation on love and loss from Ozon — Under the Sand, which also starred Rampling, and told the story of an only marginally satisfied middle-aged woman whose husband simply disappears one day at the beach. On one hand, there’s a fantastic sense of the unknowable to this film, as Julie flings her way from one man to another: what’s the story here, and how is this going to play out? Still, paradoxically, Swimming Pool’s sense of drowsy contemplation seems to portend a curveball or two, a feeling confirmed when, at roughly 70 minutes into the movie, the story’s own galloping impulse for mystery really kicks in.
Concocted by Ozon with his Under the Sand collaborator — novelist and screenwriter Emmanuele Bernheim — Swimming Pool is, I’m willing to bet, influenced to at least some degree by David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. It’s a film that is interested in creativity, identity, divergent personal and professional aspirations and the very real manner in which those components coexist and intermingle within each of us. The difference is that Ozon’s movie is in some ways even more slippery; though slow in tone, it starts out being about one or two very concrete things and then, after a few delicately played twists and turns (shocking isn’t the word, cunning is more like it) becomes something entirely different, something that it clearly always was, but just not to the naked eye.
A pro’s pro, Rampling expertly conveys hidden reserves of jealousy and desire that slowly come bubbling to the surface. Meanwhile, Sagnier (whom American audiences might have glimpsed as Tinkerbell in P.J. Hogan’s Peter Pan) is utterly amazing as Julie. Light years removed from her mischievous but juvenile role as the youngest link in Ozon’s musical murder mystery 8 Women (another worthy rental, I might add), Sagnier exudes a voracious sexual energy that makes her the physical, emotional and psychological centerpiece and linchpin of Swimming Pool. As adolescent fear and desperation slowly erode Julie’s brassy, exhibitionistic veneer, Sarah crosses psychological arcs with her; it’s a carefully choreographed dance, and Sagnier and Rampling execute it with perfection.
Sprinkled liberally with life’s intangibles, almost all of Ozon’s movies — and Swimming Pool most particularly — have a deep, engaging elusiveness, the swirl of an involving dream. Auteurs of the American independent scene would do quite well to pay attention to the director’s touch with surface and subtlety; Ozon can stage a skilled, playful interaction with the best of them, but there’s almost always a latent subtext playing in the scene as well, and it’s this very exact and exacting accumulation of details that brings into starker psychological relief the complexity of his characters. Ozon is attentive to their humanity and covertly plumbs their inner psyches. We understand his characters’ dilemmas — whether they’re explicitly voiced or not — sometimes even before the characters do.
For those who found themselves caught up in the aforementioned Mulholland Drive and/or Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s exhilarating Adaptation, Swimming Pool is well worth a dip. Alluring and inventive, though at the same time possessing the understated and relaxed rhythms typified by much foreign cinema, it’s a brilliant and very sexy mystery. During and after, you’ll be lost in thought — a feeling you might not experience that frequently this summer.