As Sarah Morton, Rampling cultivates that slightly disdainful, bored look found on the faces of women without natural curiosity. Sporting a nondescript hairstyle and a horizontal slash of a mouth, she seems to be carved from stone rather than made of flesh. Moviegoers must watch closely to catch even the slightest change in expression. Rampling’s Morton isn’t one to give anything away easily. You want her attention, you’d best deserve it and be patient.
Though still something of a young filmmaker, Ozon proves himself a master at creating just the right mood, and here he handily pulls off a fiendish trick — finding a fresh approach to yet another tale of writer’s block. For this his first English-language film, he reunites with Rampling after 2000’s “Under the Sand.” Although “Swimming Pool” offers an equally juicy role for Rampling, it’s more of a psychological thriller and much more satisfying to watch. It’s fairly simmering with sexual tension and the eroticism brought on by the unfamiliar, from first scene right up to the flourish of its final “big reveal,” and we’re never quite sure where the film is going. With beguiling ease, Rampling carries the movie along, a silent observer who misses nothing, storing it all behind her steely gaze.
Arriving for a solo holiday at her publisher’s country home, Morton closes her eyes to shut out the light French breeze. But then, as the breeze plays across that terse countenance, the corners of her mouth pull up slightly, giving us just the tiniest hint of contentment. Luckily for us, the effect is fleeting, a content Sarah is not what this script or the languidly convoluted plot demands.
Stymied by her latest novel, Sarah brings her precisely packed suitcase to France in hopes of relaxation and inspiration. What she finds, to her surprise, is her publisher’s daughter Julie (the lovely Ludivine Sagnier, seen in Ozon’s “8 Women”), a loopy nymph with tousled and tangled blond hair and an equally loose moral center when it comes to sexual relations. Not confined by either inhibition or tan lines, Julie swims nude, while Sarah, in her sparse bedroom upstairs confronts the blank page awaiting her inspiration. Although an odd pair of housemates from the start, Sarah and Julie’s lives begin to intersect in ways that would be criminal for me to divulge. Suffice it to say that both are changed by each other’s proximity.
The film’s unhurried pacing is nothing short of seductive. If you have the patience to sit back and let it flow over you without scattered thoughts of errands to run and things to do, you will be rewarded with a unique experience in the dark. If not, “Swimming Pool” will leave you drowning in confusion. ***1/2 S
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