Sweet little chlorine

Movie: Swimming Pool

Our Rating: 4.00

I wouldn't have thought it possible for François Ozon to assemble an amalgam of his last two pictures, the highly subjective psychological drama "Under the Sand" and the campy mystery "8 Women." But that's essentially what "Swimming Pool" is.

Reunited with Ozon, Sand star Charlotte Rampling plays an uptight British novelist who agrees to a working vacation at the French home of her publisher. The isolation proves great for her productivity -- until the publisher's trampy teen-age daughter (Ludivine Sagnier) shows up unannounced and turns the place upside down with her loud habits and brazen sexuality.

When last we saw Sagnier, in "8 Women," she was taking center stage for a pajama-party musical number that saw her pleading with her off-camera daddy to let her have some fun. Well, daddy, look at her now. Strutting around partially or wholly naked, smoking dope and bringing home men of all ages -- and, one surmises, odors -- she's the perfect Dionysian foil for Rampling's Sarah Morton, an emotionally constipated old bag who recoils from hedonism like a vampire at first sight of dawn. Yet the free-spirited Julie inspires a peculiar fascination in Sarah: The girl's arrival doesn't so much decimate her page count as alter her focus. Suddenly, the brazen nymphette is all she wants to write about.

There's certainly plenty of material there. In addition to her decadent ways, Julie seems to be surrounded by intrigue. She comes home at one point sporting a black eye she'd rather not stoop to explain. And then there's the question of her dear old pop, who remains absent from the premises but exerts an influence over the proceedings, anyway. If certain evidence is to be believed, he may not be anyone's idea of a saint, either.

Ozon has fun with these suspense-flick conventions, and with the thunderingly obvious metaphor of a swimming pool that stays covered until Julie arrives on the scene. Sarah calls it a "cesspool of living bacteria"; Julie likes to lounge beside it for hours on end, showing off her nubile bod. What else do we really need to know?

Even when "Swimming Pool" takes an eventual dip into purposeful ambiguity -- mixing up the motivations and playing games with the story's chronology -- the effect is one of arch mischief, not arty self-importance. Neither woman may be what she seems, wink wink, but if you know and love pictures like these, you've long since figured that out, anyway. (Muddying the personae also has the effect of muting Sagnier's fetishization, which if left unchecked could have drawn unwelcome comparisons to kiddie porn.) You'll leave entertaining pleasant theories of what just happened, but not feeling bewildered enough for your head to hurt. Even at his most oblique, Ozon is too much of a good-time artist to give anybody a migraine.

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