Swimming Pool This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

July 17, 2014
Custom User Avatar
More by this author
François Ozon’s (Swimming Pool) latest exploration of human sexuality blatantly manipulates the randy male audience member into becoming the knowing participant in a sly game of bait-and-switch, with the film’s premise serving as a flare to attract people of questionable morals into an art house drama cleverly disguised as European softcore cinema. The trickiness is even evident in the distributer’s promotional material, which does little to dissuade possible viewers that the film is nothing more than a wonderful excuse to see an attractive actress naked. However, in spite of a few brief respites early in the film, Young & Beautiful is a slowly paced character drama intent on punishing those who solely seek out the film for its proposed scandalous content.

The log line featured on IMDb and similar websites implies the plot is solely made up of a girl named Isabelle adopting the secret life as a call girl for no clear reason besides the assumed understanding that the film will contain copious amounts of sex and nudity. However, this hypothetical plot only takes up a fairly limited portion of the film. Instead, Ozon uses the majority of the film’s 95 minute runtime to delve into the physical and emotional trauma, or lack thereof, this character experiences after a married client dies during sex. Those expecting casual nudity and erotic thrills have been baited into watching a film whose main objective is to subtly break the fourth wall, and display the consequences if a real person was forced to give into the demands of an audience.

Even before this point is made clear, Ozon announces his intention to reprimand those expecting 1970s-styled European sleaze from the get-go by introducing his feature with the image of the titular attractive actress sunbathing while topless while framing the separate shots from the perspective of a pair of binoculars. This not only introduces us to the story as literal voyeurs, but also connects us to whichever character is holding the binoculars within the context of the film. Shortly after we are given ample opportunity to ogle, we learn the circumstances behind the voyeurism: The girl is underage, and the person viewing through the binoculars is her younger brother. The parallel between the audience member and the younger brother is made undeniably clear: Both are figures/people who will never be able to sexually interact with the teenage girl directly, but still have the opportunity to gawk from afar. The parallel can be further extended to compare the audience’s push to have the actress perform sexual acts on screen for their amusement to the possible implied incest-related thoughts the younger brother is experiencing.

In spite of a clear distain for his audience, Ozon is still able to deliver multiple scenes that temporarily transform his filmed thesis against lust into an honest drama. Relative newcomer Marine Vacth adds surprising depth to Isabella; giving a character who is at first a blank slate multiple layers of acuity that are occasionally unexpected, but always compelling. Also excellent is Geraldine Pailhas, who does a phenomenal job as Isabella’s mother, even though Ozon leaves her somewhat stranded in a tangent subplot which could’ve been easily excised from the film. The scenes between these two actresses featured late in the film are almost flawless, especially those where Pailhas’ now embittered and confused mother confronts her seemingly passive daughter.

Unfortunately, the film in practice doesn’t reach the potential promised by Ozon’s mission statement. The first half of the film is glacially paced, and Isabella is initially written so blankly that it’s difficult to invest in her character until the midpoint. A previously mentioned subplot involving adultery is acknowledged but forgotten, and the incestuous overtones that introduced the film are dropped fairly quickly. All of these flaws are very frustrating, because the ideas behind Ozon’s feature could provide hours worth of discussion in classes related to gender and media. Sadly, the final product is certainly a sly game of bait and switch, but our proposed consequence is more likely to lull than admonish.

Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

Site Feedback