Swimming Pool is a 2003 French-English
psychological thriller and mystery film, directed by François
Ozon and starring Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier.
The plot focuses on a British crime novelist, Sarah Morton
(Rampling) who travels to her publisher's upscale summer
house in Southern France for solitude to work on her next
book. However, the arrival of Julie (Sagnier), the publisher's
daughter, induces complications and a subsequent crime.
While the film's protagonist is British
and both of the lead characters are bilingual, the majority
of the story takes place in France - thus, the dialogue
throughout the film is a mixture of French and English,
which is appropriately subtitled.
Swimming Pool premiered at the Cannes
Film Festival in May 2003, and was released in France
a few days later. It was given a limited release in the
United States that July, and was edited in order to avoid
an NC-17 rating due to its sexual content and nudity.
The film also ignited controversy with
audiences over its ambiguous nature and unclear conclusion
which can be interpreted and argued in various ways.Sarah
Morton (Rampling), a middle-aged English mystery author,
who has written a successful series of novels featuring
a single detective, is having writer's block that is impeding
her next book.
Sarah's publisher, John Bosload (Dance),
offers her his country house near Lacoste, France for some
rest and relaxation. After becoming comfortable with the
run of the house, Sarah's quietude is disrupted by a young
woman claiming to be the publisher's daughter, Julie (Sagnier).
She shows up one night claiming to be taking time off from
work herself. She also claims that her mother used to be
Bosload's mistress, but that he would not leave his family.
Julie's sex life consists of one-night
stands with various oafish men, and a competition of personalities
develops between the two women. At first Sarah regards Julie
as a distraction from her writing. She uses earplugs to
allow her to sleep during Julie's noisy nighttime adventures,
although she nonetheless has a voyeuristic fascination with
them. Later she abandons the earplugs during one of Julie's
trysts, beginning to envy Julie's lifestyle. The competition
comes to the fore when a local waiter, Franck (Jean-Marie
Lamour), is involved. Julie wants him but he appears to
prefer the more mature Sarah, having struck up a relationship
with her during her frequent lunches at the bistro.
An unexpected tragedy occurs after a night
of flirting between the three. After swimming together in
the pool, Franck refuses to allow Julie to continue performing
oral sex on him, once Sarah, who watches them from the balcony,
throws a rock into the water. Franck feels frightened and
tells Julie he is leaving. The next day, Franck is missing.
While investigating Franck's disappearance,
Sarah learns that Julie's mother has been dead for some
time, though Julie had claimed that she was still alive.
She returns to the villa, where a confused Julie thinks
that Sarah is her mother, and has a breakdown. She eventually
recovers, and confesses that Franck is dead. Julie repeatedly
hit him over the head with a rock as he tried to leave her
at the pool. His body is in one of the sheds.
Sarah suddenly becomes the young girl's friend and protector,
and assists in helping her to bury Franck's body. The relationship
between the two changes and they appear to have become friends.
When Marcel (Marc Fayolle) becomes suspicious
of the mound of fresh soil where the body is buried, Sarah
seduces the elderly gardener in a way that Julie would seduce
him. Julie leaves, thanking Sarah for her help and leaving
her the manuscript of an unpublished novel written by her
late mother, which she had previously claimed that John
made her burn.
Sarah returns to England and visits her
publisher's office with her new novel. His daughter also
shows up just as Sarah is leaving. However, the girl in
England is a different person from the woman that Sarah
lived with in France. Her name is Julia, not Julie, and
she barely acknowledges Sarah when they pass each other
in John's office. Sarah has flashbacks of scenes at the
villa where it is Julia and not Julie who is sharing the
house, a disparity for which no explicit explanation is
The intentionally ambiguous ending sparked
much controversy with audiences. One suspicion is that Sarah
had been alone at the villa for the entire time. Ostensibly
this would mean that the character of Julie is a total fiction
conjured by Sarah for the purpose of her new book - also
titled Swimming Pool - which she presents defiantly to Bosload
at the end of the film. This explanation chimes succinctly
with the character role of Sarah and what we know to be
the reason for her trip to the villa. We learn early in
the film that Sarah is in need of both inspiration and a
new direction for her writing. The real experience of visiting
her publisher's villa becomes the backdrop for a fictional
narrative driven by the compelling character of Julie. Ozon
himself has stated:
Charlotte's (Rampling's) character kept
mixing fantasy and reality. Although in Swimming Pool, everything
related to fantasy is part of the act of creation, so it
is more channeled and less likely to end up causing madness.
In terms of directing, I've treated everything that is imaginary
in Swimming Pool in a realistic way so that you see it all
- fantasy and reality alike - on the same plane."
A competing interpretation of the end
of the film puts forth the idea that Sarah has been thinking
and writing about herself all along, and that Julie is simply
a creation based on her younger self. Sarah has been reliving
her long ago past in the persona of Julie. At the end of
the film, it's obvious that Julie isn't (and hasn't been)
Bosload's daughter throughout the film. In fact, when all
three women, Sarah, Julie, and Julia, alternately wave to
each other across the swimming pool, we can briefly see
an emotionally immature Sarah (perhaps thinking of her youth).
This suggests a deeper connection between the trio.
An further opinion, however, is that it
is the younger self of the author (Sarah) herself that is
presented throughout as Julie
Directed by François Ozon
Produced by Olivier Delbosc
Written by François Ozon
Starring Charlotte Rampling
Distributed by Focus Features
Release date(s) May 18, 2003 (Cannes)
May 21, 2003 - France
July 2, 2003 (limited) - US
August 22, 2003 - UK
Running time 94 minutes
Charlotte Rampling as Sarah Morton
Ludivine Sagnier as Julie
Charles Dance as John Bosload
Jean-Marie Lamour as Franck
Marc Fayolle as Marcel
Mireille Mossé as Marcel's daughter
Lauren Farrow as Julia
Sebastian Harcombe as Terry Long
Frances Cuka as Lady on the Underground