In this periodic column we hook back up with our favorite ex's--as in classic movies worth a re-watch.
From The Crush Letter Special Issue. Sexy Night In.
If you didn't spend your summer tuned into the NYC heat index, then you may have missed the fever around the 1969 French film La Piscine ("The Swimming Pool"). There's been a lot. It opened at the consecrated Greenwich Village art-house cinema the Film Forum in May and never left, only one of the reasons that Glynnis McNichol of The New York Times called it a "film of New York's 2021 summer." By then Glenn Kenny, also of The New York Times, had named it a "Critic's Pick," The Criterion Collection had added it to its library of vaunted classics and Robert Abele further enflamed with his review in the L.A. Times Desire by the poolside electrifies psychodrama of 1969's 'La Piscine.' Farran Smith Nehme provided some juicy (and much appreciated, for this viewer) back story in Sun-Kissed Tension: On the Staying Power of Deray's La Piscine on rogerebert.com. And, in reaction to all that, one of my favorite film critics, Richard Brody, wrote The Movie World's Misplaced Worship of 'The Swimming Pool' in The New Yorker.
Whether he was successful in dousing out the fire lit by La Piscine I'm not sure. I can only say that I was glad that I did not read Brody's derisive critique ("American art-house cinema mistakes the film's glamour and nostalgia for oginiality") before watching it. Brody took the sultry movie seriously, as its weighty themes (possesiveness, manipulation, control, feminine power and objectification) and even more menacing atmosphere might insist. Also, there was all that ruckus. Me? Not so much. Maybe because I started it on an unseasonally hot, sleepless August night at 2am, or maybe owing to its very slow pace, but I gave up searching for the clues that might ultimately hold the story together early. About ten minutes in, actually.
That's when a young Jane Birkin, playing the role of a detached young woman named Penelope (though I never saw her as anything other than an early version of the boho sensation she would become) and her father Harry (played by the excellently snakey Maurice Ronet) step out of his burgundy Maserati. They are joining the central characters, Marianne (a hypnotic Romy Schneider) and Jean-Paul (a sultry and pensive Alain Delon), who had spent most of the opening scenes playing in and around the pool that is the focal point of the spacious villa outside Saint Tropez friends have lent them. Also by then, viewers had witnessed the one suggestively sadomasochistic scene that could explain the intensity and, ultimately, persistence, of the bond between the two leading characters, Marianne and Jean-Paul (as well as underscore some of the film's themes and connect the story line).
But I'm not going there, because also by then the themes and the story line itself already felt drowned by the weight of the mesmerizing beauty, glamour and cool of the dazzling leads, the villa, the period, the cinematography, the groovy score. Watching gorgeous, tanned bodies in various states of stylish dress, often wet from the pool, seducing and lusting and stretching and strolling around an elegantly relaxed French Riviera villa--all with a glowering hint of danger mixed into the backdrop--was more than enough reason for me to jump in. Those are the reasons to watch La Piscine. It is not soft porn, but La Piscine offers up a kind of quintessentially 60's languid, sultry visual stimulation that slowly builds like drawn-out foreplay, after which you can dive into whatever you'd like.
Watch the trailer on youtube here. Note that the relative jazzy pace of the trailer belies the lazy crawl of the film itself.
If you are a subscriber to Criterion, stream it here.
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The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter curated by Dish Stanley on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?