Sunday, September 18, 2011

La Piscine

 Sun On The Pool by David Hockney
Summer is gone, and I swam exactly eight times - there were three afternoons spent in the quarry (two with a full cast on my left arm, so I spent most of the time in my big blue inner tube), one time in a pool, again with the cast, ,  twice in a pond in Vermont sans cast, sans everything, and once more, the last dip of the season, in an absolutely freezing cold river in Vermont, so I don’t think that one really counts, because I dove in, and exited so quickly that buoyancy was never achieved. I began the summer with a goal to swim often and to swim in places other than Connecticut, my usual swimming hole, and I achieved the second part of the goal, but the frequency was limited severely by the fact that I broke my hand in mid-June - plaster-a-paris and pond water don’t mix very well.

The busted fifth metacarpal drove me to swimming substitutes and one of those was watching films with swimming themes. I want to tell you about three.

The first film is The Swimmer, made in 1968, starring Burt Lancaster. I was so excited about seeing this film because it’s based on my favorite author John Cheever’s story of the same name. What a terrible disappointment. Burt Lancaster isn’t the problem, if anything, he is the only saving grace of a perfectly terrible adaptation of a perfect short story. Don’t see it. Read Cheever’s story instead.

That was brief, wasn’t it?

Next up, I want to compare two fabulous watery films: La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) made in 1969, starring Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, and the young, and unbelievably vapid Jane Birkin, and 2004’s Swimming Pool with Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier.

Before you read on, this is your SPOILER WARNING.

Both films take place in France, and the pools at the center of their stories are near Marseilles and St. Tropez.

A young, beautiful girl shows up unexpectedly in both stories and causes irreversible trouble.

Each film produces a murdered man, one is drowned in the pool, one is bludgeoned to death by a rock at the edge of the pool.

Both murders go unsolved and unpunished.

There is an older woman in each tale who is perturbed and nearly destroyed by the young and beautiful, albeit calamitous female character - Romy Schneider’s seemingly perfect life and sexual power are no match for Jane Birkin’s effortless and innocent intrusion. And Charlotte Rampling’s self-loathing spinster mystery writer is driven deeper into despair by Sagnier’s trampy taunts. But both Schneider and Rampling prevail in the end, as older, wiser women should.

Both films are full of sex.

But they do diverge. La Piscine is a tangled web of intrigue amongst a group of friends, with few things in common, except wealth and a jet-setting life that bores them to tears. Their self-indulgent life-style breeds contempt and they turn on one another. But Swimming Pool is actually the story of one woman's inner mind. Rampling's travails are a complete fantasy, and Sagnier simply a figment of the her imagination, indeed, a character in the mystery novel she writes while on holiday.

Ultimately, both films are rich and must-sees, much like David Hockney’s swimming pool paintings - these works can extend summer far past Labor Day, canning it, like tomatoes, for a cold January day.

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