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Thread: Swimming Pool

  1. #1

    Swimming Pool

    Swimming Pool
    Focus Features
    Rated R
    John DeSando, WCBE’s “It’s Movie Time”

    Not since "The Graduate" has a swimming pool carried as much motif heft as it does in Francois Ozon's film of the same name.

    Not since the recent "Adaptation" has the art and craft of writing been so carefully and dramatically depicted as in Ozon's film.

    Although the central character, Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling), is a Ms. Marpole or Jessica Fletcher type--crime fiction maven--the film tries to weave her middle-aged, repressed artist into a mystery plot as psychologically energetic as any psychoanalysis. Throw into the mix the stranger motif, "The-Trouble-with-Harry" visitor, who disrupts vacations and lives, who changes things, as Flannery O'Connor might allow.

    Most of the film is planted exquisitely in Rampling's supple body and mind, where her real and imaginative lives contend for prominence. Ozon and Rampling in "Under the Sand" achieve similar success in the mind of a professor who can't let go of her recently deceased husband.

    The last part of "Swimming Pool", where plot ends are tied up and mental health again an issue, remarkably comments on the confluence of the mind and reality for a writer. Earlier when Sarah deflects an ardent fan on the London Tube by telling her that the woman she recognizes is not who she seems to be, Ozon prepares us for a personal journey of discovery that fuses personal anxieties and longings with the tyranny of a profession that, as in “Barton Fink,” requires trauma to test the limits of expression.

    "Murder She Wrote" would have sufficed for the title as the story moves from inside Morton to the reality of random sex, female aggression, and family loss. Like the pool that is covered and uncovered almost without plan, the detritus under the cover is as telling as the story itself.

    Ozon is a master of Rampling's subtle expression--few actresses even this far in their careers are as expressively understated and indisputably attractive as she. She is proof that still waters run deep.

    John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at on Thursdays at 8:01 pm and Fridays at 3:01 pm.
    Last edited by John DeSando; 07-23-2003 at 11:19 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Ottawa Canada

    Not since John DeSando....

    I'm learning from you, John.

    Great review of "Swimming Pool".

    I would like to know what "motif" the pool held in "The Graduate", tho. I never considered it- I just lived vicariously through Hoffman. Oh how I still wish I had my own Mrs. Robinson!

    I agree wholeheartedly that "Murder She Wrote" would be an appropriate alternative title.
    But I have to ask, is the pool more important than Morton's imagination?
    Last edited by Johann; 07-25-2003 at 11:27 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  3. #3

    Pools and Dancing

    Johann--thanks for the contact. You are right about writing in Ozon's film--It is paramount. It's just that as a "semiologist," so to speak, I go crazy when I see a filmmaker actually caring enough to develop a pattern.

    For me the pool in Graduate represents the ambivalent nurterer like mom or lover and the destroyer like demanding dad (water can baptize and nourish or drown--it also provides safe haven such as at bottom of pool or fish tank).

    While kayaking in Guatamela, I met a male dancer (and his wife )from Dallas ballet, who, as we discussed dancing in film, acknowledged that most professional dancers believe CAGNEY was the best dancer in films. Given Yankee Doodle is my favorite musical and his song and dance unworldly, I understand your interest in him.

    Thanks again for paying attention to what I wrote. Let's keep in contact. John DeSando

    The Pool in Film: Deep and Lovely and Full of Sharks

    OSTLY, swimming pools conjure summer afternoons dedicated to carefree indulgences like lime daiquiris and a satisfyingly bad novel. Pools are pleasure ponds and symbols of suburban Arcadia.

    But in the movies, the swimming pool as a sea of tranquillity usually turns out to be a mirage. Disaster, hypocrisy, humiliation and murder lurk in and around pools. Pools are filled with shallow people, terrifying people or people likely to go off the deep end.


    Welcome to Hydrophobic Hollywood, where the pool, despite its idyllic associations with summer bliss — or maybe because of those associations — is exploited as a wellspring of anxiety and chills.

    "Sunset Boulevard" begins with a dead man floating in a pool. "The Great Gatsby" ends with one. In this summer's "Swimming Pool," from the French director François Ozon, a repressed middle-aged writer played by Charlotte Rampling and a teen-aged vixen played by Ludivine Sagnier awkwardly share a country house in the Luberon that is dominated by a pool.

    "I absolutely loathe swimming pools," Ms. Rampling's character says. This one is covered by a slick tarpaulin like a coroner's sheet. It is the scene of trysts and, ultimately, murder.

    "The traditional meaning of owning a pool is `If you've got it, flaunt it,' " said Dr. Glen O. Gabbard, a psychiatry professor at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and an author of "Psychiatry and the Cinema."

    "But," he said, "many people worry that their children will drown in them. Neighbors are envious if you have one. A Faustian bargain is associated with pools. Somehow you don't deserve this kind of success, and you will pay for it."

    Directors in their cleverness, said Dr. Arthur Freeman, a professor of psychology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, like to spring surprises on characters around a pool because audiences view the settings as benign.

    Dr. Freeman said. "When they think of swimming pools, they think of Hugh Hefner, Tom Collinses and hammocks." "As `Psycho' gave new meaning to showers, directors using pools are taking the commonplace, the innocuous, and transforming it into something terrible or terrifying."

    "Sunset Boulevard," a 1950 classic which may be the ur-text of Hollywood's dystopian view of pools, begins with a scene of the fallen screenwriter played by William Holden floating face down. The screenwriter narrates his tale from his watery grave in the third person. "The poor dope!" he says of himself. "Well, in the end, he got himself a pool."

    As did Jay Gatsby, who, portrayed by Robert Redford in the 1974 film, ends up a floater, too, his motionless body atoning for the sins of his careless high-society friends.

    Nobody drowns in "The Graduate" (1967) or "The Swimmer" (1968), two documents of 1960's middle-class malaise. But in both, spirits are drained, lives are destroyed and artifice overwhelms the tinkling of cocktail ice cubes.

    In "The Swimmer," based on the classic short story by John Cheever, Burt Lancaster portrays an advertising executive who takes a chlorine-eyed journey through a series of suburban pools on his way home. His journey is less an odyssey than a Dante-esque tour of infidelity, intoxication and cruelty.

    Benjamin Braddock, Dustin Hoffman's character in "The Graduate," stands in the deep end of his parents' pool, breathing through a scuba tank but metaphorically suffocating. "Hello, darkness, my old friend," Simon and Garfunkel sing.

    "Isn't it by the poolside that Benjamin is told of the wonders of plastics?" Dr. Gabbard said. "There is the message here that they have bought into a plastic culture, with the material success being the pool. They may even have plastic surgery. They have a superficial, meaningless existence."

    One feels a foreboding of a different sort around the pool in a more recent film, "Sexy Beast," Dr. Gabbard pointed out. The 2001 heist movie begins with an enormous boulder tumbling into the swimming pool of a retired burglar, played by Ray Winstone, and it ends with Ben Kingsley, as a monstrous figure from Mr. Winstone's past, buried beneath the pool.

    "That boulder is a marvelous embodiment of the unconscious fantasy people have," Dr. Gabbard said. "It comes down, wrecks the pool, and snowballs the evil to come."

    Unsettling events occur poolside in films as diverse as "Harold and Maude" (Bud Cort gets a rise out of the grown-ups by pretending to commit suicide in a pool); "Magnum Force" (Clint Eastwood pursues the bad guy responsible for a massacre at a pool party); "A.I." (a robot boy nearly drowns a child); and "Swimfan" (an admirer of a high school swimming champ turns stalker).

    The directors of all these films tapped into what some psychologists believe about water — that is has unsettling connotations for the human mind.

    "There is something about water that suggests a loss of control, not being able to stand in it, with your head vulnerably sticking out," said Dr. Judith Beck, director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

    "There is an anxiety of pools, of them being a danger area. Intellectually, people know they are not in danger, but their gut tells them that they are."

    In the movie poster for "Wild Things," a 1998 sexual thriller set in Florida, Neve Campbell and Denise Richards look like crocodiles in a turquoise swamp, their heads just barely showing above the water.

    "Pools symbolize what goes on on the other side of reality," said John McNaughton, the film's director. "There's the surface, and what's beneath the surface, and there are always murky goings-on in pools."

    In "Wild Things," those things included "the dark side of sexuality," he said. "It wasn't about love and warmth — it was predatory, reptilian sexuality."

    Dr. Gabbard said that sexuality's underside is key to understanding why swimming pools can be so scary.

    "A swimming pool is a place where people expose their bodies," he explained. "There is a kind of sexual competitiveness associated with who looks better in pools, who is sexier. And everyone thinks they will lose out on the competition."

    "The convergence of the Faustian bargain, the envy of others, the symbol of failing in a sexual competition, and of course, death by drowning all converge around the swimming pool," Dr. Gabbard said.

    Mr. Ozon, who toyed with the fear of the ocean in "Under the Sand" two years before he released "Swimming Pool," said that pools, like the movie screen itself, are a canvas for the projection of audience fantasies.

    "When you have a swimming pool, you have to be almost nude," he said. "You have to show your body and accept your body. There is sexuality there, of course."

    With Charlotte Rampling's character, "the swimming pool is not what she thought it was at the beginning," he said.

    And it isn't for audiences, either.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Albuquerque, NM, USA
    Man, this is some interesting stuff. I'll never look at a swimming pool the same way again, *chuckle*.

    I think a swimming pool can provide a very surreal visual. Oh, jeez, how do I say this? You know the kind of, er, reflection/shadow it casts on things around it? That effect really can cast an eerie setting. While this wasn't really utilized in Swimming Pool, it is a pretty cool thing. Damn, that sounded retarded.
    "So I'm a heel, so what of it?"
    --Renaldo the Heel, from Crimewave

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Ottawa Canada

    Re: Pools and Dancing

    [i]Originally posted by John DeSando

    OSTLY, swimming pools conjure summer afternoons dedicated to carefree indulgences like lime daiquiris and a satisfyingly bad novel. Pools are pleasure ponds and symbols of suburban Arcadia.

    I like this quote a lot. You've brought to everyone's attention the psychological/emotional aspects swimming pools have.
    Water has a reputation(?) that demands respect yet we love it so much.

    Like alcohol, we enjoy it immensely but deep down we know that it is capable of killing us.

    Is the Garbarino piece a book or is it an article? Where was it originally published? It gives one a lot to ruminate over...
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  6. #6

    Pool Article

    Johann--That article was from last week's New York Times. Glad you liked it. JD


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