Wednesday, 30 November 2011

In the swim - pools in movies, part three

A swimming pool is the centre of confusion for Simone Signoret and Véra Clouzot in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1955) but pools are so central to two intertwined French films that they are named after the bathing spots - the setting for murders in both, by different means. In La Piscine (1969), which is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, and Swimming Pool (2003), the camera lingers longingly on the pneumatic bodies of respective stars Romy Schneider and Ludivine Sagnier (pictured).

In the former film, Schneider is paired with her ex-lover Alain Delon, not looking bad nearly a decade after Plein Soleil, here distracted by Lolita-esque Jane Birkin. In François Ozon's Swimming Pool, libidinous Sagnier disrupts writer Charlotte Rampling's dreams of a peaceful holiday.

In Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También (2001), bored teenager Gael García Bernal is seen wanking into a pool with his friend, played by Diego Luna. When the randy duo embark on a road trip with Maribel Verdú, they stop at a dilapidated, out-of-season motel, where the pool is cloaked in fallen leaves. Christina Ricci meets boyfriend Elijah Wood in an equally leaf-strewn scene in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm (1997), but this time the pool is empty, and they are in their winter coats.

The passing of a way of life, and a country, is marked in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's A Screaming Man (2010) as a proud lifeguard must give way to his son, and then must try and rescue his offspring when the civil war reaches them. Youssouf 'Champion' Djaoro's cross-country journey is leant a surreal air by the swimming goggles he sports to keep the sand from his eyes.

This journey is marked nowhere better than the 1968 film adaptation of John Cheever's beautiful short story The Swimmer, starring Burt Lancaster, later reworked as a Levi's jeans ad (set to Dinah Washington's Mad About the Boy). In it character Ned Merrill decides to swim across an endless stream of home pools - as he does so, the season changes from summer to autumn, accompanied by his fortunes.

And then there's Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), which opens on scriptwriter William Holden's body floating in a pool, two shots in the back and one in the stomach, we're told. 'The poor dope, he always wanted a pool.'


  1. I'm startled by how many of my favourite movies--Sunset Blvd, The Ice Storm, Les Diaboliques, The Page-Turner, Cat People--are linked by this pool motif. I hadn't made the connection myself.

    The scene in The Ice Storm where Ilejah Wood is standing on an ice-covered diving board over an empty board, bouncing up and down, his boots slipping and scratching on the board's surface, is one of the most unexpectedly tense scenes I can think of in film.

  2. Thank you James - have you seen the Penguin Modern Classics covers for CS Forester's Plain Murder, Payment Deferred and The Pursued? Apologies if you've already mentioned them, I don't know them - any good?

  3. They're not bad--I like the idea they're going for, but they seem to be lacking a bit of oomph, if that makes sense.