Swimming Pool: Unrated Version
Film Length: 103 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English & French- Dolby Digital 5.1; English – DTS 5.1
Director François Ozon's first English-language film, Swimming Pool, is a taut, interesting character study that features an unexpectedly thought-provoking conclusion. In addition, the performances by its female leads, Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier, are impassioned and affecting. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy things about the film, however, is that it blurs the line between genres, moving slowly from a leisurely-paced drama to a relatively suspenseful thriller by its conclusion.
As Swimming Pool opens, we meet Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling), an English murder-mystery writer who is searching for herself in-between books. Despite her success as a writer, Sarah longs for some variety in her work, and hopes to use her creativity to reach beyond her trademark homicide investigation novels. Of course, being the shrewd businessman he is, her opportunistic publisher John Bosload (Charles Dance) is keen on having Sarah stay within her comfort zone, namely the crime stories that make him a lot of cash.
Interestingly, the film is quite vague, in terms of revealing how John and Sarah relate with one another outside their working arrangement, but in an effort to help Sarah find inspiration, John suggests that Sarah retreat to his lavish country home in France to get her creative juices flowing. Upon arriving, she does indeed find the house and environment delightful, and begins working in earnest again. However, the unannounced arrival of Mr. Bosload’s daughter, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), whose penchant for lounging around in the nude, or bringing home much older men for sex, brings an unwelcome sense of tension into what had been a serene working environment for Sarah.
As might be expected, the two women’s very different attitudes lead to the development of quite a bit of antagonism and acrimony between them. To be more specific, the older and much more uptight Sarah is initially quite flummoxed by Julie’s wild, reckless behavior, but ultimately becomes fascinated enough by it to spy on her almost continuously. Although Julie’s unexpected arrival causes Ms. Morton to briefly lose focus on her work, she soon finds herself challenged to understand the free-spirited youth’s mentality. Indeed, the apparently prude Sarah seems to find Julie's uninhibited behavior quite liberating after a while, and whether intrigued, jealous, or just plain repulsed by Julie's unbridled sexuality, Sarah is so taken with Julie that she begins writing about her exploits.
Once she begins writing about her, Sarah craves even more insight into Julie’s actions, so she secretly watches her make love, watches her swim, and even steals her journal, which leads to the aforementioned prolific burst of writing. Unfortunately, Sarah’s snooping also sets a disturbing chain of events in motion, which places the writer into the kind of suspenseful situation she had previously been a party to only through her works of fiction.
Ironically, though both women are initially upset with each other's intrusions, Sarah is not the only one who becomes enthralled by the other’s persona. Though Julie is initially irritated with Sarah’s holier-than-thou attitude and criticisms of her behavior, it might be argued that she comes to see Sarah as a mentor of sorts, an individual in possession of the more rigid moral code that she lacks. Or perhaps Julie could see in Sarah the structure that is missing from her life, due to the lack of a mother figure.
I should not go into further details about the plot, but I do want to expound on the performances of the two leading ladies in Swimming Pool. To boil it down to a word, Charlotte Rampling is delightful as Sarah Morton. Her performance is intelligent, deliberate, and completely sells the novelist's bottled-up dissatisfaction, which makes her obvious invigoration with being caught up in Julie's suspenseful lifestyle all the more realistic.
Further, the seductive Ludivine Sagnier, who portrayed a similar fiery youth in 8 Women, also helmed by Ozon, just beams with sexuality and spirit as the enigmatic Julie, a young woman whose emotional distress and zest for living in the moment make up a unique, complex character. In my humble opinion, Sagnier brings a lot of passion (and acting chops) to this role, although I must admit that it was somewhat difficult to pay attention to the subtleties in her performance, since she is semi-nude during most of her scenes (go ahead and heckle me, but you try paying attention and see just how tough it is! ).
All kidding aside though, both Sagnier and Rampling excel in Swimming Pool, and appropriately ratchet up the tension as the film’s intrigue builds. The elements of erotica and criminal intrigue also help to give Ozon’s story a uniquely organic and unpolished feel. Even more importantly, over the course of Swimming Pool’s running time, the director also develops a myriad of potential twists from which to choose, and ultimately elects to wrap things up in a way that should have most people re-thinking everything they have just witnessed, as any well-crafted noir thriller should do.
NOTE: I did not see this in a theater, so I cannot say for sure what the Unrated edition contains that the R-rated cut does not, but there is nothing too extreme in this film, unless you find full frontal nudity objectionable.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Focus Features’ Swimming Pool contains some beautiful scenery, in terms of locations and characters, and Universal’s anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer does a fine job of bringing this beauty into home theaters. In particular, I found flesh tones to be quite accurate, and color reproduction in general was commendable, although bright reds (Julie’s raft & Sarah’s pen) suffered from a slight bleed. Further, the print is also very clean, and the deep, dark blacks help give the image a rich texture and more than an acceptable level of shadow delineation.
Additionally, fine detail often extends well into the background of a given shot, close-ups look fantastic, and the minimal amount of film grain visible is never a distraction. Similarly, though there is a minute amount of edge enhancement visible, it never proved to be a distraction, and I suspect that with everything else going on in this picture, most people will never notice it. All in all, this is a very good effort by the folks at Universal, and aside from the two very minor issues I mentioned above, there really is not much else to complain about.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Since Swimming Pool is a largely dialogue driven film, the DTS 5.1 channel audio track (Dolby Digital is also available) is not terribly boisterous, but it reproduces the source material rather well. For instance, dialogue is accurately recreated, without hissing, sibilance, or other distractions, which gives Charlotte Rampling’s rich, throaty voice and Ludivine Sagnier’s luscious French accent the proper care they deserve.
As you might have expected, the rear and .1 channels see precious little action, but the front soundstage is wide and airy, and the high frequencies are rendered delicately, allowing the ethereal, piano-laden score plenty of room to breathe. Again, this track is not spectacular, but you cannot ask for too much more, when the source material is taken into consideration.
NOTE: A French 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track is also available. For all of my fellow Spanish speakers…sorry, but if you don’t speak English, you’ll have to stick to subtitles.
There are a total of four deleted scenes, all of which are extremely slow moving, with shots of Sarah walking around, visiting landmarks, writing, and so forth. In my opinion, these scenes were wisely trimmed, for not only would they have made this movie seem overwhelmingly long, but they also fail to add anything substantial to the final cut.
The theatrical trailer for Swimming Pool is included.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Speaking strictly to Universal’s presentation of Focus Features’ Swimming Pool, the transfer is good enough to allow the viewer to concentrate on the action as it (slowly) unfolds, and the encoded audio not only sounds good for what it is, but it is available in both Dolby Digital and DTS. Although the DTS track really doesn’t make much difference in the case of this film, its inclusion should please DTS zealots like myself. : ) As for extras, there are only 4 rather forgettable deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer available. On the whole, this is a by-the-numbers presentation by Universal, in that no one element is extraordinary, but the disc is certainly not completely deficient in any area either.
As you might have guessed from my comments on the film, I liked this movie quite a bit overall, and suspect that most people will as well. That being said, Swimming Pool is very “stylishly directed”, and its slow, deliberate pace might make it difficult for some viewers to remain interested (even if they approve of the ample nudity ). Indeed, some of the camera moves are almost painfully slow, and after a while the repeated shots of Sagnier getting in and out of the pool (as nice as they are), or Rampling’s character spying on her, became a bit tedious.
Still, if you are the type that appreciates slow-burning suspense and artful character development, and can deal with slow-paced, brooding films, Swimming Pool would likely make a good rental (at least), although I would probably discourage a blind purchase unless you are really into films of this type, or are just looking to stretch your cinematic horizons.
January 13th, 2004