La Piscine April 27, 2016
La Piscine is a slow burn of a character study that initially introduces itself as a wet dream of summertime eroticism. But while it’s sexy, propelled by an ensemble of sexy stars, it isn’t as much interested with sex itself as it is with the sexual tension that arises from the in-between.
It stars Alain Delon and Romy Schneider (who were in a serious relationship from 1958 to 1963) as Jean-Paul and Marianne, a pair of eye-catching lovers vacationing at their friend’s St. Tropez villa for some needed time off. Jean-Paul is an author suffering from the setbacks of writer’s block; Marianne is a prosperous reporter in dire need of a period of relaxation. An animal attraction between the two gives their relationship an unwavering excitement — we could imagine them spending the rest of their lives at their poolside bungalow, catering themselves to afternoon rendezvouses aplenty, bottomless glasses of chilled liquor, and sultry exchanges.
But the earthly heaven they’re currently basking in comes crashing down when Marianne receives a call from Harry (Maurice Ronet), a friend of the couple who dated Marianne long before she met Jean-Paul. The latter is apprehensive when faced with the idea of the man interrupting his leisurely holiday, but it’s clear that Marianne holds no grudges in regards to the past relationship. Gleefully, she invites him to the sun-drenched home, his vampy daughter (Jane Birkin) in tow. Upon arrival, they all, expectedly, get along like old friends. To a point. But as days go by and past frustrations begin to resurface after years of being kept hidden, the situation takes a turn for the deadly.
Directed and co-written by Jacques Deray, La Piscine is a languorous dramatic thriller that bears the scent of a film we anticipate to lustily build until it reaches a blistering climax that rips our berets off. But alas, a ferocious closer never reaches us; it’s a tense ride never relieved. At two hours, we want nothing more than to be rewarded with tempestuousness that serves as a malignant reflection of the subdued drama before it.
And yet La Piscine stays slow and thoughtful, cinematic aspects fascinating until we decide that we’d prefer it if our patience were actually paid off. It’s made with great style great care, and features universally capable performances from its beautiful cast. I’m just not so sure Deray, along with co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriére, realize that mood and fashionability can only go so far before you have to inject a movie with some dramatic weight. C+