We would appreciate your not revealing the film’s secrets,” implores the press kit for Swimming Pool, the new movie-and the first in English — by acclaimed French director François Ozon. This leads one to expect spectacular plot twists of the kind that are prevalent, yet rarely convincing, in American suspense movies; but what Swimming Pool offers, overall, is not plot zigzags but a sustained atmosphere of fear, a journey of utterly believable eeriness.
Charlotte Rampling-breathtakingly beautiful at 58-plays British mystery writer Sarah Morton, depressed about her work and her life. She takes up her publisher’s offer of a vacation at his mansion in the French countryside; he won’t be there himself, so she will have peace and quiet for her work. But shortly after Sarah arrives, she is joined by a surprise visitor: the publisher’s loud and slutty French daughter, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier).
The exteriors in this film are every bit as gorgeous and idyllic as they were in another impressive movie about a person trying to write a book in picturesque isolation: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. And while Swimming Pool doesn’t offer the explicitly bloody terror of Kubrick’s masterpiece, it does capture pretty much the same feeling: the worry that one is either the object of a horrible conspiracy or-worse-going mad. Rampling is equally capable of playing frumpy and sexy, warmly vulnerable and harshly practical; she is therefore perfect for this part. The viewer shares — to a level rarely achieved-in the emotional suspense endured by the film’s protagonist. She has written suspense novels; we have seen suspense movies. We are savvy about the twist possibilities, but we get the sense that our main character is, too.
This is a film whose payoff does not come at the end, though there are, naturally, surprises of a kind in the denouement. It is, rather, a journey to be enjoyed equally at all points along the way, a beautiful windswept French summer with all the beauty of tenderness and dread.