The French excel at so many things — fashion, food, elitism — but there are few things they do better than sexy, sexy movies. Director Francois Ozon's 2003 thriller Swimming Pool is proof perfect — a surreal, hazy erotic thriller set in a big house in the south of France.
Equal parts English and French in its sensibilities, with dialogue split between the two languages, it's a movie about desire, creativity, and the blurry lines between fantasy and reality. And wouldn't you know it — it's streaming now on Netflix.
Swimming Pool follows the creative process of middle-aged British novelist Sarah Morton (the great Charlotte Rampling, fearless and still elegant) as she heads to the south of France to stay at her editor's vacation home while writing her next book. But her serene getaway is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of her editor's illegitimate daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier, a hypersexed ingenue).
They butt heads at first — Julie is a provocateur, capricious and impulsive — but as Julie's behavior begins to complicate matters for Sarah, with a lot of wild sex, partying and an eventual murder creating disruptions for the buttoned-up novelist, Sarah finds herself invigorated by all the drama, which gives her material for a new and very different kind of book than the ones on which she built her career.
Ozon is one of the more influential players in the 21st century French cinema movement known colloquially as the "New New Wave"; his films are taboo-busting, controversy-courting and transgressive, and Swimming Pool is all of that. As Sarah reconnects with her sexuality, she comes alive; it's decadent to watch.
Swimming Pool isn't a perfect film; the ambiguous ending calls into question everything that came before it, which can be interpreted as either a cheap trick or a brilliant gambit, or maybe both. But standout performances from Rampling and Sagnier and the gauzy eroticism of Ozon's direction elevate Swimming Pool in both style and content — and hey, if the subtitles turn you off, it's still half in English.
Don't Mind the Subtitles is a feature examining great but underrated foreign films — proving that just because you don't speak the language doesn't mean you can't enjoy the movie.
Sam Lansky is a writer and editor from New York City.
Photo Credit: Focus Features