The first English-language film from director François Ozon ("8 Women"), "Swimming Pool" stars Charlotte Rampling as Sarah Morton, an irritable British "crime fiction writer" who has become creatively tired and in need of inspiration. She visits her publisher (Charles Dance), who offers her the chance to spend some time at his French estate, where she will hopefully find the rest and relaxation she needs to write another book.
She arrives there and, for a while, things go quite well. She begins to write the latest in the Inspector Dorwell series she's become so famous for, and she enjoys the local scenery. Then, an unexpected visitor arrives in the quite sexy form of Julie (Ludivine Sagnier, who has an amazing body and spends much of the film naked), the publisher's daughter who Sarah didn't know would be joining her. Sarah is irritated, as the silence of her environment has been shattered. Julie is young and free-spirited and generally finds herself with a new guy every night - their noise, as well as Julie's enjoyment of sitting by the pool topless - greatly dismaying the older woman. Marcel (Marc Fayolle), the elderly groundskeeper, and Franck (Jean-Marie Lamour), the local waiter and the men that Julie bring home seem like the only other people around.
There's a rather subtle, haunting quality about the movie from the first frames. The mansion's emptiness is a part of it, as is the tone of the cinematography and performances. All of the elements make for a great, unusual atmosphere and mood to the picture. Charlotte Rampling - who looks great - is very enjoyable in the lead role, subtly and convincingly showing changes in the character. Sagnier's surprisingly comfortable in her role - not only due to the lack of clothing, but she goes up against Rampling quite superbly, as her character's subtle testing of the older woman's tolerance of her is well-played.
The relationship between the two women is tense at first, with the younger woman considering the older woman repressed and rude, and the older woman considering the younger not terribly polite, either. Yet, the two eventually reach something of a peace agreement, with Sarah starting to use Julie as inspiration for her latest effort. Soon enough though, the tables start to turn and each woman starts to become more like the other. Then the twists - which I definitely won't start to reveal - pile up, resulting in a strange and unexpected ending that takes a little effort to try and piece together. The film's ambiguity also leaves some elements of the film up to interpretation.
An elegant and carefully crafted mystery, I found "Swimming Pool" to be very enjoyable and one of the year's finer films. I haven't seen director Ozon's prior work, but after watching this, I'm definitely going to check it out.
VIDEO: "Swimming Pool" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Universal. This is largely a fine transfer, although there's a few little irritants that take it down a notch or two. Sharpness and detail are very good, as the daylight scenes appear especially crisp and well-defined.
Problems appear, unfortunately, often in the form of edge enhancement. While most scenes are free of it, it does appear - sometimes slight amounts, sometimes more mild and noticable - in a few instances. A couple of light compression artifacts and specks also do appear on the print used. The film's rather subtle color palette looks beautifully rendered here, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: "Swimming Pool" is presented in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. Sound-wise this is a very subtle film, which works in its favor. Ozon knows the power of near-silence and uses it, as several scenes work better with only very slight ambience behind them. Philippe Rombi's score, only used lightly here-and-there, is terribly effective, with a certain quality that's both elegant and eerie. Dialogue - mostly in English, with some brief, subtitled French - seemed clearly recorded.
EXTRAS: The film's theatrical trailer and 12 minutes of deleted footage. The main menu starts only after an absolutely tedious seven minutes of forced trailers.
Final Thoughts: Memorable, compelling and carefully constructed, "Swimming Pool" is a thought-provoking mystery with two excellent lead performances. Universal's DVD provides nothing much in the way of supplements, but pretty good audio and video quality. Recommended.