Synopsis: The chilling portrait of male rivalry and jealously reunites real-life lovers ALAIN DELON and ROMY SCHNEIDER as a couple on vacation at a villa near St. Tropez. When her ex-love shows up unexpectedly with his beautiful teenage daughter (JANE BIRKIN), it creates a dangerous love triangle between the grown-ups that leads to deadly consequences.
La piscine 8.0
eyelights: Alain Delon. Romy Schneider. its portrayal of a relationship on the rocks. its location. its camera work. its sexy bits.
eyesores: its weaker third act.
“I have the impression of no longer knowing you.”
Jean-Paul and Marianne are at a friend’s Côte d’Azur villa, near Saint-Tropez, having borrowed it for a month’s summertime holiday. They enjoy lingering by the pool together and feel no compulsion to go anywhere else.
They are content.
But one day an old friend, Harry, calls them up and comes by with his teenaged daughter. Though he and Jean-Paul were once like brothers, he’s had a liaison with Marianne and his presence throws the couple’s balance.
Soon a rivalry grows and Jean-Paul watches Harry and Marianne flirt with some suspicion. But he’s slightly distracted by Penelope, Harry’s pretty daughter, and he takes advantage of the situation to seduce her.
The group’s strained peace will not last long.
I actually don’t remember what compelled me to pick up ‘La piscine’, Jacques Deray’s 1969 box office smash hit. I remember browsing for French blu-rays online and stumbling upon it, having never heard of it before.
What motivated me to watch it, however, was a combination of factors: having recently watched ‘Swimming Pool‘ (which has been unduly compared to it, for some reason), and the promise of some amount of sexiness.
And it is sexy.
I was quite taken with the languid atmosphere of the piece, which is appropriately not unlike like a warm summer day by the pool, just enjoying the sun and wasting the days away. It makes you feel like you are there.
This is peppered by Jean-Paul and Marianne’s dynamic, which involves minimal conversation as well as fluctuations in warmth and passion; one moment they appear close, intimate, and then, in the other, they are closed.
There was a subtle tension underlying their interactions that became palpable and which eventually grew to mutual distrust as the relationship became more frayed; their love was conditional but unnurtured.
Alain Delon is unbelievable as Jean-Paul. He can be incredibly charming but he’s can also be cold, moody, cutthroat. This made Jean-Paul unpredictable as we never quite knew what he would be capable of next.
Romy Schneider was equally brilliant as Marianne. Though she was absolutely lovely, there was a slight dismissiveness of Jean-Paul in her manner. You felt like she loved him but wasn’t entirely committed to him.
Interestingly, the two actors had been a couple a few years before this film and they were able to tap into both the passion they once felt for each other as well as the resentments that likely survived in the aftermath.
The two are golden gods here, perfectly tanned and trim, a perfect match. Schneider is incredibly beautiful here, and sexy in a way that I’d never even imagined. The camera loves her, caressing her every wave.
Harry is played to perfection by Maurice Ronet, but he’s not as enjoyable if only because he’s a disturbance – not just an interloper in the relationship but by bringing chaos to the household with his partying.
Penelope is incarnated by singer-songwriter Jane Birkin, who is fine in the part, but who pales in comparison to the others. Thankfully, Pen is quiet, demure, keeping mostly to herself; not much is asked of Birkin here.
But what surprised me was how sexy ‘La piscine’ is without being explicit. It’s all in the way that Jean-Paul and Marianne interact when they’re passionate for each other, it’s in their lovely bodies and the shots.
There’s a minimal amount of nudity with both being in swimsuits much of the time – and in the form of Schneider’s toplessness and Delon’s near full-frontal as Marianne sensually kisses Jean-Paul’s midrift in bed.
The most sexual part of the picture is a small moment when Jean-Paul undressed Marianne and decides to fetch a small branch to lightly and briefly whip her with – after which, driven wild, she tears right into him.
Naturally, the picture is sexy in its earlier parts, gradually losing steam as the couple grows apart, and is completely ejected at the end, when they are faced with a trouble turn of events that strains them further.
The third act is clearly the weakest part of the picture, adding a little suspense but not holding up narratively, as it barrels through a police investigation and wraps it and the relationship up all too quickly.
Still, its turning point is an unforgettable moment, both because it’s so shocking and unexpected and because it’s bewildering; it’s the consequence of temporary madness and it’s impossible to watch unappalled.
‘La piscine’ is a terrific motion picture. It does almost everything very well: it captures the mood, dynamics, and context exceptionally well and is supported by some incredibly strong performances by its leads.
It was a bit of crap shoot for me to buy this blu-ray, having heard very little about it, but I’m very glad to have taken the plunge. It’s no doubt a picture that I will revisit many times over, dissecting it more over time.
It’s a fascinating look at a relationship drifting into the deep end.
Nota bene: The picture also shot in English concurrently while shooting the French version. Deray shot the whole film chronologically, and after each take they would shoot the English equivalent instead of overdubbing the French parts later. So, while both are the same film, the performances are slightly different, and the dialogues are as well.
The overall story is the same but there are tonality shifts that are unexpected, like Penelope being slightly more demure, Alain Delon being friendlier but also more scrutinizing. The sex scenes are noticeably different, being a mildly bit more risqué in the French one. Here, that’s replaced by slightly more nudity courtesy of Romy Schneider.
Post scriptum: The picture was remade in 2016 as ‘A Bigger Splash’, starring Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton.
Date of viewing: April 9, 2017