Swimming Pool is a slow moving pseudo-mystery that trades on sex as a major selling point, but manages to fit some substance in to boot. The story is that of Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling), a successful, but rapidly aging, spinster of a mystery writer, suffering from boredom and writer's block. To find new inspiration, her editor sends her to his country home in France for fresh air and new scenery. What she isn't told is that her editor's wild young daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) will be staying there too, disturbing the peace and slutting things up, much to the chagrin of overly conservative Sarah.
The result is a titillating and unhurried character drama with all the trappings of a thriller, but with erotiscm substituted for danger driven tension. Director Franois Ozon is clearly in love with his two leads and lingers luxuriously over both, taking time to let each unfold in their own individually skewed way. Visually, Ozon lusts over Julie's body, as she parades around shocking Sarah with her willingness to display nudity and her wide open attitude toward sex. Julie uses the entire house as her own sexual playground, fueling at first irritation from Sarah, and later, a slowly developing fascination. Through it, Sarah's writing takes flight, and Julie becomes the focus not only of Sarah's creativity, but of her entire life.
Sarah's Angela Landsbury like dip into obsession may be the catalyst for Swimming Pool, but it is Ludivine Sangier's Julie who steals the show. Her sweaty sensuality and obvious disdain for wearing shirts is ultimately what really gives Swimming Pool it's spark. Without it, Ozon's attempt at noir would lose much of it's heady luster. Still, Rampling, now pushing sixty, doesn't shrink from going toe to toe with Ludivine in a somewhat uncomfortable game of tit-for-tat.
Swimming Pool is a smart and moody tease that while visually irresistible, draws you in primarily through the acting prowess of it's two stunning leads. In a way, it explores the difference between writing about dirty things and actually doing them, a theme remarked upon by Julie more than once when confronting Sarah about her prudish, real life persona. Had it stuck to that premise, and the tantalizing mix of rampant sexuality colliding with overwhelming aged repression, then Swimming Pool could have been a more memorable character thriller.
Sadly, Ozon's film opts out for a gimmicky and inconclusive ending which undermines a lot of the better things it should have had going for it. What we're left with is something that could only be loosely defined as a mystery-thriller. An overlong setup and a misplaced tease instead of a resolution leaves Swimming Pool in a sexually entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying narrative fog.