La Piscine

La Piscine

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The opening credits of the newly restored La Piscine show the world reflected in the pool of the title. It is at once familiar and yet slightly off-kilter, natural but with a surreal edge, and it is an ambience that will go on to pervade Jacques Deray's languidly sultry film about passion and jealousy.

Showing a similar - although not quite as well-developed - talent for insinuation and implication as Claude Chabrol (it would make a good double-bill with Les Biches) - Deray makes his characters sweat metaphorically as well as physically as his film morphs from erotic romance into psychological thriller.

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When we meet Jean-Paul and Marianne - played by former real-life lovers Alain Delon and Romy Schneider - they are soaking up the sun and sex at a villa near St Tropez. Spending their days by the poolside, in each others arms or both, it's a lustful idyll that immediately seems too good to last. Inevitably, trouble arrives in the form of Marianne's former lover Harry (Maurice Ronet) and his ingenue daughter Penelope (Jane Birkin, perfectly cast as the slightly awkward not-quite-a-child-but-not-a-woman jail-bait).

Swimming beneath the early sexually-charged scenes between Jean-Paul and Marianne is a sense of desire for a deeper connection that Jean-Paul, at least, seems unwilling to give. Harry, on the other hand, wears his heart on his sleeve, making no apology for his obvious ongoing attraction for Marianne. And as Jean-Paul finds himself increasingly intrigued by the gauche English/French Penelope, with her cumbersome French, lack of self-awareness and hardly-there pool gear, the stage is set for problems in paradise.

Like the swimming pool focal point of the film, things on the surface may look bright and inviting but deeper down there is something altogether more chilling. Deray's film is one of two halves, the first all burgeoning passion, the second concerning desire of an altogether more unwelcome sort. The sultry sunshine is beautifully captured by the languorous camerawork of Jean-Jacques Tarbès to the point where we can almost taste the sweat and the tang of jealousy. The scoring by Michel Legrand offers evocative accompaniment - and is also a retrospective joy for those who like their Sixties kicks to come hot and heavy.

Once one of the characters reveals a darker side to their nature, however, something of the early suspense is lost as Deray employs more familiar formula to bring the film to its conclusion. Restored from two original negatives - one in French and a second in English - this re-release is well worth catching on the big screen, where its sun-drenched sparkle with a sinister edge can be viewed at its best.

Reviewed on: 30 Sep 2011
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La Piscine packshot
A couple's idyllic summer break is interrupted by the arrival of an old flame and his daughter.
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Director: Jacques Deray

Writer: Jean-Claude Carrière, Jean-Emmanuel Conil, Jacques Deray

Starring: Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Maurice Ronet, Jane Birkin, Paul Crauchet, Steve Eckardt, Maddly Bamy, Suzie Jaspard, Thierry Chabert, Stéphanie Fugain

Year: 1969

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: France

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If you like this, try:

Les Biches