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American Cinematographer Magazine

Swimming Pool(2003)
1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced) Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS
Universal Home Video, $26.98

In Swimming Pool, the repressed Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling), a best-selling author of British mystery novels, is frustrated with the direction her career has taken. Fed up with being reduced to creating moneymaking pulp fictions, she is determined to take her talents in a new direction. On the advice of her charming but evasive publisher, John (Charles Dance), she departs on a literary retreat to hammer out her next novel at his remote villa in the south of France. When Sarah isn't strolling through the village countryside, she is diligently writing with newfound creative juices while gazing out over the garden's long, rectangular pool.

Late one evening, Sarah's idyllic writing studio is disturbed by the arrival of John's estranged daughter, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), who has come to spend some time at her childhood home. Both women, surprised at the other's presence, take an immediate dislike to one another. Soon the atmosphere becomes tense and combative. Free-spirited and provocative Julie cannot abide by prim Sarah's rules of silence, and the younger woman's promiscuous nature only exacerbates the tension. Just as the women find a way to coexist, a deadly incident occurs at the pool. Suspense brews as Sarah and Julie must align to keep from drowning in a crime that threatens to implicate both of them.

With clever nods to both Clouzot's Diabolique and Bergman's Persona, French filmmaker Francois Ozon's sexy thriller Swimming Pool made a splash stateside last summer. Fans of Ozon's work know that his visuals are often intensely saturated and highly stylized, and Swimming Pool is no exception. Ozon tapped frequent collaborator Yorick Le Saux (Sitcom, Eager Bodies) to photograph the film; as with many of their films, they chose a strong primary-color palette to bring Swimming Pool's narrative elements to life. Indeed, the film is sharply drawn into two parts: the rainy, slate-gray of London, where Sarah is tense and suffocating, and the lush, sensual landscape of the French countryside, with particular attention given to the aquatic tones of the titular pool.

Universal Home Video has precisely recreated Le Saux's lighting scheme with an excellent color transfer that shows not a trace of chroma noise or artifacts in even the deepest primary colors. The audio tracks are also excellent, giving crisp life to Phillippe Rombi's mischievous score with a solid, inviting mix that makes full range of the both the standard Dolby 5.1 and the slightly stronger DTS track.

Universal's Focus Features, which distributed Swimming Pool in the States, is among the latest Hollywood studio "art house" subdivisions devoting itself to developing eclectic American material and distributing unusual and interesting international fare. In hopes of drawing attention to Focus DVDs, Universal Home Video includes on this disc a mandatory-view preview of Focus' current library (in mini-trailer format) to give viewers an idea of what kind of material it hopes will continue to be a hit with the public. The disc continues with feature supplements that include the slick theatrical trailer for Swimming Pool and an impressive array of deleted and/or extended scenes from the film. Many of these scenes serve well in trying to work out the mystery beneath the surface of Swimming Pool, and even first-time viewers of the film will enjoy searching for clues or alternate narrative layers; part of the fun of watching these scenes is trying to figure out what direction the film might have taken if some had been used.

The Swimming Pool DVD has been released in two versions that are sold separately: the original, unrated version and the more conservative, R-rated version. Upon evaluating both versions, it appears that only the full-frontal nudity and some explicit groping between Julie and her doomed paramour, Frank, have been omitted. In retrospect, the deletions seem silly, because Swimming Pool is very much an adult film about voyeurism, spectatorship and how an audience and an author view a text while experiencing or creating it. This playful and brazenly sexy outing deserves to have all of its tricky visuals intact, for they give its viewers all the more reason to plunge into its mystery.

- Kenneth Sweeney

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© 2003 American Cinematographer.