Swimming Pool

The final scene in this film completely recontextualises everything we have observed prior to it. Basically, it was all a dream – and that can feel trite and unsatisfying, except it opens up rather than closes down the ambiguities of Charlotte Rampling's character. The film is a slow burn, with the first part setting up how solitary and self-contained Sarah Morton can be, her habit of eating yogurt and sugar echoing the auto-erotic nature of Travis Bickle eating mayonnaise out of a jar. 

The fabrication of Julie may be spurred by the arrival of a real Julia, but we only get to see what Sarah invents, which is a character through which she can dig into her own desire for affirmation from her distant, condescending publisher. By imagining a surrogate daughter with her own issues of abandonment, Sarah comes to recognise her own lack of personal and artistic fulfillment, repressed by the demands of churning out rote but popular detective novels.

The swimming pool is an obvious symbol of this imaginative flowering – slowly being uncovered, cleaned up and then inhabited by Sarah's muse Julie. Julie's sexualisation may hint at a repressed homosexuality in Sarah, but may just as much be down to the envy the old harbour for the beauty and freedom of the young. Through Julie, Sarah relives her own experiences during the sexually liberated swinging sixties. She is a conduit through which Sarah can explore her desire for the men around her – young, old, beautiful and ugly.

Julie concocts a murder in a strange reflection of Sarah's own sexual jealousy, but when confronted she says she did it for the good of Sarah's book. This is a retreat into the comforts of the genre Sarah is familiar with, which distance her from her actual personal tribulations. But instead of uncovering the murder, Sarah covers it up – she's no longer the detective but the criminal. She becomes an actor rather than the observer of events.

The film's blending of these ambiguous personal reevaluations with the trappings of a Hitchcock-style thriller plot goes to the heart of Sarah's ambivalence about her work – the demands of her audience and industry for sex, violence and murder set against the artistic demands for self-expression and earnest communication. Through Sarah, Ozon is laying bare his own anxieties about himself as a creator and filmmaker.

Swimming Pool may ultimately be an argument for the primacy of self-expression – it is the symbol of Sarah's imaginative emancipation and the title of her book. But at its best, the film shows how the demands of art and audience are not actually in conflict. Sarah is at her most prolific – furiously typing away with a cigarette drooping out of her mouth – when she becomes besotted with her invented daughter and her mysteries. We also understand Sarah better as a result of seeing the violent and sexual urges that underpin her creativity. Ozon's project may be to unearth the personal desires and frustrations that give birth to our collective storytelling conventions.

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