Swimming Pool

Swimming Pool ★★★½

Written and directed by François Ozon, working with writer Emmanuèle Bernheim and translator Sionann O'Neill, Swimming Pool is a sun-soaked psychosexual drama that turns into more of a standard thriller in the third act, anchored by two fantastic lead performances.

Charlotte Rampling is Sarah Morton, a writer who is given the use of her publisher's vacation home in Southern France. She writes detective thrillers, usually, and needs complete peace and quiet for her working process. It turns out, however, that her publisher (who is played by Charles Dance) has forgotten that his daughter (Julie, played by Ludivine Sagnier) is also due to spend some time at the house. Things soon become tense as Sarah and Julie clash, the former trying to get into the right headspace for her writing while the latter keeps herself busy with a series of one-night stands.

Moving between English and French, Swimming Pool is a fascinating character study of two people who are very comfortable in the personas that they choose to reveal to one another, yet completely out of their comfort zone when needing some real support. Both also have an arrogance about them, but for different reasons. Rampling has her assumed position of superiority simply by being older, and a polite Brit, while Sagnier has youth and a lack of care for any consequences, for most of the runtime anyway.

Rampling is excellent in the role of Sarah, as is Sagnier with her embodiment of Julie. Both leads skirt perilously close to their characters being completely unsympathetic, yet they manage to keep you watching as things develop between them into what could be a friendship, if no other agendas cause it to become unbalanced. Jean-Marie Lamour is Franck, a man who ends up inadvertently caught between the two women for an evening, and he also does a great job. Dance is only really in the movie for the start and end, bookending things with moments that show a big difference in the dynamic between himself and Rampling's character.

Although it takes a while to find its feet, Swimming Pool turns into something riveting and thought-provoking, especially when you get to a final scene that leaves things enjoyably ambiguous. It's about tapping in to your innermost desires and impulses as you try to access your creative side, it's about allowing yourself the freedom to just enjoy the company of others (good conversation, some dancing, a healthy helping of sex). It's even about just becoming someone else for the duration of your holiday in a foreign country, letting the mix of hot sunshine and cool water help you to view yourself as someone a bit steamier than usual.

Fans of Ozon will know that so many of his movies revolve around the idea of identity, what people can discover about others, what they can discover about themselves, and Swimming Pool is in line with his preferred thematic exploration. There may be a number of characters here, but it's all about Sarah discovering some other parts of Sarah.