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Fresh from the land of Eiffel Tower, Thierry Henry and French fries (where, incidentally, they just call them “fries”) comes another brooding gem of a film that might look ordinary on the surface but turns out to be anything but. Mainstream Hollywood conventions have been tinkered with, characterisation takes precedence over anything else and not since Virginie Ledoyen in The Beach has a young, French bombshell made such a stunningly sexy impact. All this over a simple swimming pool…

Swimming Pool (Rental)
Movie
Despite the overwhelming French flavour, British actress Charlotte Rampling heads the line-up as the bookish, conservative Sarah Morton, a writer who is desperately trying to find a muse in which to hook into another mystery novel. She seeks silent refuge in her publisher’s secluded holiday home in the south of France, anticipating that the peace and quiet might get her creative juices flowing.

Enter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier, the bombshell in question), the publisher’s young, nubile daughter. Like chalk and cheese, the two characters now sharing the country hideaway have nothing in common. Sarah desperately craves some tranquillity, while Julie can’t help but let her inquisitive mind and free-spirited persona take over. The end result is a direct clash of personalities, with Sarah becoming more and more disturbed by Julie’s sexual exploits and general carefree nature.

While very little actually happens in terms of plot points in the film the ensuing drama and tension is explored with a deft touch that will keep you interested for the entire 100 minutes. Charlotte Rampling is a proven pro when it comes to stage and screen, and by pairing her up with a young up-and-comer who just oozes sensuality the film becomes overwhelmingly compelling. Director Francois Ozon never lets the sex override the real focus of the story, preferring to put two entirely different screen presences together and see what happens.

The most obvious standout in the film is Sagnier, who plays things like she’s been around for years yet captures the innocence and freedom of Julie’s character exceptionally well. Disregarding the fact she spends the majority of the film without any clothes, she’s an absolute knockout and may well find herself following a similar career path to Virginie Ledoyen, who has forged on in France to great success. With very little in the way of a support cast it’s a good thing that the two main players nail their characters from the outset, otherwise the film may well have drifted along with little impact.

Part of the official selection at Cannes, there’s no doubt Swimming Pool is for cinema fans first and foremost. This is the kind of stuff Cannes eats for breakfast, not surprisingly creating some serious buzz before the film’s official release in cinemas around the globe. Arthouse it may be, but there’s really very little to distinguish this film from the variety of dramas that earn critical acclaim in the coveted US market. Swimming Pool deserved more during its theatrical run, and not even the critics could coax most movie-goers to plod along to this one. Still, it’s good to see there’s another avenue for the film to reach a grateful audience. And for those worrying about subtitles, this is Director Ozon’s first English-language film, and definitely not his last real winner.

Swimming Pool (Rental)
Video
There are a lot of things to like about this 1.85:1 presentation. Firstly, there’s an inherent softness to the picture that makes things look even more relaxed than they seem on screen. That said, the sharpness is still up to scratch, particularly in the tough exterior scenes. The colours are another highlight of the transfer, with the bright blue of the pool matched with the vibrancy of the surroundings as well as Sagnier’s now famous swimsuit.

Grain is probably the most notable detractor when it comes to the visuals, with a few scenes looking overly grainy in certain places. The darker scenes tend to exhibit this more than most, but it’s not something that’s really that big an issue. Overall the level of detail in the picture is top notch, the print is clean despite the grain and the colours look just fantastic.

Audio
While the unrated Region 1 version was blessed with a DTS mix, there’s really not that much between it and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack included on the Region 4 release. The focus on peace and quiet for Sarah effects the way the audio is handled, with basically only ambient effects coming out of the speakers for much of the first act. There is still a great deal of subtlety about the mix at this point, though, so the soundtrack still has plenty to offer.

When Julie arrives the focus shifts to more of a conflict, which is where much more of the orchestral score kicks in. But other than that the surround use is minimal, save for directional shifting of the dialogue on the front stage. The dialogue itself is always clear, even the (subtitled ) scenes in French. With very little to do the soundtrack can’t really be faulted.

Extras
Again, the Region 1 disc differs in that a deleted scenes package is included. This disc, however, contains only interviews with Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier as well as a promo reel and the theatrical trailer. The interviews are of a reasonable length, with Morton’s piece running for just over seven minutes and Sagnier’s (who looks even more gorgeous than in the film) for just under eleven. In both cases the questions are posed in text on the screen then the actress responds.

The promo reel is a strange one. It runs for over seven minutes and is basically the whole film in that little nutshell, consisting of a series of clips from the film strung together pretty much chronologically. Why anyone would watch this either before or after seeing the film is beyond me. The only other extra is the theatrical trailer, which is a much more enticing advertisement for the film overall.

Swimming Pool (Rental)
Overall
Long gone are the days when French films were purely the domain of only high-class cinema lovers and dirty old men in trenchcoats. With so many interesting stories coming out of Europe it comes as no surprise that audiences are really starting to warm to the alternative. Swimming Pool is the perfect way to stray from the norm yet delve into a relatively easy narrative to start. Morton and Sagnier carry the film admirably, while Francois Ozon shows an incredible poise with his work and ensures this won’t be the last English speaking film of his career. In all, this is a great way to explore something a little different, but not too different as to turn you away.


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