Toronto
2 min

Poolside mystery

Genre-bending at its best

GENRE-BUSTING. With the erotic murder-mystery Swimming Pool, starring Charlotte Rampling, gay filmmaker François Ozon shows he's a master of surprise. Credit: Xtra files

Swimming Pool confirms once and for all that François Ozon is among the most interesting directors of the moment. Thus far, his overarching method of filmmaking has involved taking multiple genres and mucking about with them, synthesizing something else altogether. Criminal Lovers from 1999, for example, was a jumble of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and a gritty, violent urban coming-of-age tale; and last year’s hugely successful 8 Women mashed together the whodunit stage play and the musical – it was like French divas do dinner theatre.



This time Ozon really outdoes himself. The key to genre pieces, of course, is in their predictability. Here, in his English-language debut, Ozon uses that very predictability to confound the viewer and make everything seem a surprise.



Off the top, Swimming Pool appears to be standard fare. Sarah Morton (played by an absolutely luminous Charlotte Rampling, who seems to be channeling a harsh, cold Glenda Jackson – think Sunday, Bloody Sunday) is a best-selling English writer who has had much success writing a series of crime novels. Now she has writer’s block, so her publisher (and lover) sends her off for a sojourn at his summer home in France.



Once there, Sarah is unexpectedly confronted by Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), her lover’s daughter, and the string of men she brings home for sex. Predictably, Sarah behaves terribly English – her disapproval of Gallic flamboyance is palpable, her uptight British nature evident in her obsessive execution of minuscule tasks (a scene in which she gobbles down a dessert with single-minded precision is priceless) while Julie lies about the pool half-naked.



But just as we sit back to take in the expected tale of Sarah’s overcoming her repression (she starts to have soft-porn dreams involving Julie and Franck, played by the super hot and aptly named Jean-Marie Lamour, a waiter from a local café), everything shifts. We enter almost soap-opera territory, with Sarah stealing ideas for her book from Julie’s diary and Julie getting back at her by setting up situations to embarrass Sarah.



Once that familiar plotline starts to take hold, Ozon throws another twist at us, and we find ourselves in murder mystery land, with Sarah, the crime author, becoming a perverse version of Miss Marple.



Finally, it becomes impossible to decide what is really going on. The events on the screen may be real – or are they happening in Sarah’s writerly imagination? In and of itself, the plot fragments of each section of the film are familiar and predictable – as hackneyed as Sarah’s books. But by throwing them all together, Ozon’s seamless genre-hopping destroys our ability to figure out what comes next, making this film a great pleasure to watch.



Because, loving Charlie’s Angels as we may, heaven knows it’s a thrill to be surprised at the movies.



*Swimming Pool opens Fri, Jul 11 at Cumberland Cinemas, Canada Square Cinemas and Bayview Village Cinemas.