Ready for a break from action/adventure, zany comedy, guts and gore and costume epics? In other words, are you tired of a typical American movie summer?
Take a dip in "Swimming Pool." But be prepared to immerse yourself in a European cinema experience.
This suspense story from French director Francois Ozon is a gripping study of one character in a very real-life situation and the forces that act on her life over the course of a few days.
Veteran British actress Charlotte Rampling, best known for her portrayal of a concentration camp survivor in 1974's "The Night Porter," plays an English mystery author who takes a holiday in the French countryside.
The film's first full half hour lets audiences get to know her bitter, world-weary character as the camera follows her from a subway ride to a meeting with her publisher, where he suggests she stay at his summer villa in the south of France to relax for a few weeks, to her arrival at the vacant house.
Although the pace is slow, it's never boring. Rampling's character, Sarah, is antisocial and uptight but not entirely predictable, and viewers remain engaged as she goes through such mundane activities such as unpacking her suitcase and laptop computer or shopping for produce in the nearby village. Audiences know that sooner or later, something is going to happen that will change this woman's life.
That something is the unexpected arrival of Julie, the publisher's sensual and free-spirited French daughter. After a few tense days of being unable to get any work done on her latest novel because of Julie's chatty personality and sloppy living habits, and unable to get any sleep because of Julie's - ahem - overnight guests, Sarah confronts Julie and demands to be left alone. But she can't ignore her curiosity about the young woman's past and what makes her tick, and soon she starts working on a new book based on her housemate's life, that couldn't be more different from her own.
The musical score to "Swimming Pool" is as eerie and suspenseful as they get, heightening the anticipation that something grim will surely surface as Sarah's and Julie's worlds begin to flow together. Did I mention that Sarah's best-selling novels are all murder mysteries?
Like Sarah's character, the relationship between the two women is constantly changing and unpredictable. Director Ozon also wrote the screenplay, and if viewers who think they know where the plot's going find it's suddenly taken a different path, Ozon said that's intentional. He wanted audiences to draw their own conclusions and essentially become part of the creative process that parallels Sarah's writing in the movie.
"Swimming Pool" has a few points in common with the recent Nicolas Cage/Meryl Streep sleeper, "Adaptation." Both films center on a writer whose fascination with another person becomes the theme of their creative efforts and leads them into a strange and sordid adventure. But while "Adaptation" is vibrant, bold and has a plot written on a Moebius strip, "Swimming Pool" is introspective and linear up until the final scene.
Don't be surprised if you leave the theater confused, even embarrassed that you didn't "get it." "Swimming Pool" is a movie that's worth mulling over as you try to remember the clues to piece together to find the key, which rewrites in your head what you thought was the story.
In short, it's a workout for the mind. A respite from the adrenaline slams of faster, louder, costlier extravaganzas that fuel the American movie industry.
"Swimming Pool"Rated - R
for strong sexual content, nudity, language, some violence and drug use
Starring: Charlotte Ramplin and Ludivine Sagnier
Director: Francois Ozon
Length: 103 minutes
Now playing at: Astoria Gateway Cinemas
Short take: Take a refreshing break from big-budget American movies and dive into this quiet but taut European suspense story about a British mystery writer whose solitary vacation in France is interrupted by the intrusion of her publisher's sensual young daughter. Slow and careful, but never boring, writer/director Francois Ozon lets audiences join in the creative process and "write" their own meaning to the surprising chain of events.
Rating: 3 stars
4 stars: Absolutely the best
3 stars: Good, solid entertainment
2 stars: Wait for the video
1 star: Don't waste your time
Movie Trivia: What was unusual about Charlotte Rampling's role 1986's "Max, My Love?"
Movie Trivia answer: She played a woman in love with a chimpanzee.