Swimming Pool (10)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


 I saw Titanic and All About Eve on successive nights on cable.  I saw Titanic first.  Then, later that night, I awoke around 4 a.m. and turned on the TV and caught one line of an old black and white movie that I instantly recognized as All About Eve, although I hadnít seen it.  I heard that one line and I was caught.  Wide-awake now, I had turned on in the first ten minutes and was transfixed.

 As soon as it was over, I was struck by the dichotomy between the two.  Titanic cost over $100 million to make and won the Academy Award as best picture (one of 11 it received, none of which was for writing).  All About Eve cost around $600,000 to make, was shot almost entirely on a sound stage in Hollywood, and won the Academy Award as best picture (as well as five others, including best screenplay).  The two couldnít be more different.  Titanic had no script worth talking about.  The story was sophomoric, the acting mediocre.  All it had was a huge ship built at exorbitant cost, and spectacular special effects.  For this it received the Oscar as the best picture of the year.

 All About Eve, on the other hand, had no special effects, a moderately large budget for the times (1950), but it had a brilliant script and direction by Herman L. Mankiewicz, and spectacular acting.  Thatís what you needed in 1950 to win an Academy Award.  You needed a good story.  You needed a brilliant script.  You needed the script intelligently translated to the screen by a competent director and a good cast.  By 1997, all you needed was special effects.

 My thesis here is that Titanic ruined Hollywood.  Nobody cares about the script or the story or the acting anymore.  Itís all special effects.  Look at the movies Hollywood has released this year, Charleyís Angels, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Matrix, Terminator  etc., etc. All driven by special effects.  I admit to having not seen the last two, but doubt that anyone will challenge that they are special effects-driven.  Can you name one Hollywood movie youíve seen this year that had a good script?  How about one with a good story?  How about one with good acting?

 I remember how I felt after I saw All About Eve and Sweet Smell of Success the first time.  I felt that I had seen something remarkable.  I felt that everyone involved with each was a consummate professional.  I felt that each came close to perfection.  The writing of each blew me away.

 Thatís how I feel today after seeing Swimming Pool, a film not made by Hollywood, thank you.  Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling) is a dispirited, disagreeable successful writer of mysteries.  She is turned off by people who recognize her and fawn all over her, telling her how much they like her books and all.  Iíll stop here because the movie almost fell apart for me right there, at the outset.  I donít know any writer, and I know a few (remember, Iím a writer!) who doesnít like to be recognized and, yes, fawned over.  Donít believe me?  Iím in the process of reading William Goldmanís (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the Presidentís Men, etc.) second volume of his autobiography, More Adventures in the Screen Trade. One constant theme is the under-appreciation of writers.  Writers generally welcome the plaudits of the crowd, because, for one thing, they are so rare. If you see me and want to fawn over something Iíve written, feel free.

 But, despite this flaw, I recognized it as a plot device so hung in there.  If youíre not a writer, it wonít bother you.  Sarah has the hots for her publisher, Charles Dance (John Bosford), so she unloads on him and he suggests she visit his country house in France as a locale from which to write her next mystery.  She accepts, on the proviso that he visit her there, which he agrees to do.

 She arrives and starts writing.  Shortly thereafter, Danceís sexy, mysterious daughter, Julie (Ludivine Sangier) arrives unexpectedly.  Sarah rejects Julieís attempts at being friendly.  Julie cavorts half naked throughout most of the movie and brings in odd men for one-night stands, all of which upset Sarahís equanimity.  Sarah canít make contact with Charles to tell him in person of her complaints.  From that point, things go from strange to stranger.  Julieís weird.  Sarah changes.

 This is a magnificent script by Emmanuele Bernheim and Francois Ozon, who also directed.  Ozon wrote and directed 8 Women last year, which was one of the better movies I saw in 2002.  Heís topped himself here. This is a recondite story thatís extremely well acted by everyone, but especially Rampling and Sangier.  The story is enthralling and keeps you involved up to the ending, as you try to figure out whatís going on.  So far, this is the best movie Iíve seen this year.

 July 22, 2003

 The End