With “Swimming Pool,” Europe's most daring and inventive writer/director, François Ozon, reunites with his two favorite leading ladies, Charlotte Rampling (“Under the Sand”) and Ludivine Sagnier (“8 Women”). Sophisticated and sexy, “Swimming Pool,” the first of Mr. Ozon's movies to be made in the English language, is a psychological thriller about evil in paradise.
This sunny, mean little suspense drama — premiering in Geneva at the Smith Opera House on Jan. 2 — is about an outwardly composed and cruel English woman who writes popular crime thrillers and a sluttish young French girl who actually lives them. When these two — Rampling as novelist Sarah Morton and Sagnier as her publisher's daughter Julie — cross paths at the publisher's French country villa, a crawly tension springs up between them, followed by a string of eerie events that seem to explode into both promiscuity and murder. But is the murder real? Is it all a concoction, a dream?
Ozon bases his female novelist Sarah partly on Patricia Highsmith, the author of both “Strangers” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Like Highsmith, Sarah specializes in tales of vicious amorality, coolly told. Incisively played by Rampling, Sarah is also in love with her publisher, urbane ladies' man John Bosload (Charles Dance). When pressures get to his star writer, he suggests a vacation at his villa in the South of France.
At first, it's a dream vacation in a sunlit province far from strait-laced or madding crowds. But it turns bad soon. Sarah doesn't really know the kinds of people — killers and connivers — she writes about. On the other hand, Julie, the publisher's daughter knows sin well, and she proceeds to commit a lot of them right under Sarah's second-floor window, often in and around the villa's initially messy swimming pool.
While Sarah seems locked in a vise of British upper-class repression, Julie bops to Megadeth records and sleeps with an exasperating number of sleazy men: drippy local letches and pasty-faced creeps with lascivious smirks on their faces. Among this lineup of losers, she also manages to seduce a hunky local waiter who has attracted Sarah's eye. The pool encounters grow sexier, more disturbing. Then, something dire happens, or seems to happen, throwing both women on a dangerous new track.
Ozon is a modern gay filmmaker who is usually unabashed about exposing homoerotic and feminist themes in his work, but here he celebrates both the high acting gifts and the intense sexuality of his two stars. For Sagnier, that seems easier; she plays another sultry French hoyden in the tradition that goes back to Brigitte Bardot and beyond. But American audiences, especially the ones who missed “Under the Sand,” may be startled at how much sensuality (and skin) Rampling reveals, especially considering the fact that she's been a noted international screen beauty ever since she played the nasty roommate in 1966's “Georgy Girl.”
Ozon's most recent film was the award-winning Focus Features release “8 Women,” one of France's top-grossing films of 2002. Prior to making “8 Women,” Mr. Ozon attained international attention for his features “Under the Sand,” “Water Drops on Burning Rocks,” “Criminal Lovers,” and “Sitcom.” The Paris native is a graduate of the French national film school (FEMIS).
“Swimming Pool” will be screened at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, January 2 and 3, and at 2 p.m. Sunday. This film is rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, some violence and drug use. It has a running time of one hour, 42 minutes. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. Call 315-781-5483 or toll-free 866-355-5483 for details or to pre-order tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.