FILM | La Piscine (1969)

The Swimming Pool [La Piscine] (1969)
Directed by Jacques Deray

Immediately establishing the summer warmth in the South of France, La Piscine, a French classic, opens with a sky and classical piano playing. And if you know my taste, you’d know I LOVE those two together. Safe to say, that opening was a good way to make a person like me interested enough to keep watching. Especially as it cuts to Alain Delon’s chiseled face. Haha.

This film was another one of my French cinema studies. I’ve been so enamored by French cinema and European taste in general, as they seem to push the boundaries of creativity and storytelling. So it felt right to start studying the French classics. Now, I wouldn’t say this was a life-changing film or a must-watch, and some may feel averse due to some touches of misogyny, but if you appreciate a good character arc, lengthy yet purposeful dialogue, the warm atmosphere of the south of France, and beautiful French stars such as Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, and Jane Birkin, then this would be a nice one to have some tea to at the end of the night… Or is that just me? Because half-way through, I think some people would feel uncomfortable.

Despite it’s warm tones, La Piscine actually turns out to be a psychological thriller. And the main motif of the film is.. you guessed it – the swimming pool. You’ll understand why the story revolves around this throughline when you watch it.. I won’t spoil it. I actually came into watching it without knowing it was a psychological thriller, so the occurrences came as a surprise after mostly dialogue. As you might tell, I LOVE psychological thrillers.. But this is definitely a slow-burn type. It is mostly dialogue and sensual scenes, but I admire the French language so much. I always found it so captivating and romantic. So much that I’m learning it. Hahaha.

Jacques Deray did a fantastic job capturing such a perpetual atmosphere in literally just technically a single location – the Summer House in the Riviera. It’s a bonus to have such beautiful stars, it made everything feel like a romantic painting. Pairing the beautiful cinematography with sensual jazz soundtracks, you’re sort of drawn into the narrative. Though the long scenes may start to feel draggy, the lengthy dialogue helps you piece together the underlying issues of each character, creating tension all around, keeping the narrative alive. But it’s only until Act 2, does the story really pick up and you feel the suspense much more.

As for the visual techniques, Deray used a long lens for many establishing shots in opening scenes which I liked. The shots are very slow-paced and lengthy, but it gives way to create this strong and tense atmosphere. He also used these moody slow zoom-ins to really feel the intimacy of the characters with each other.

I would recommend the film for those who want to study dialogue and character arcs. It’s a pretty good screenplay to study since the whole film really relies on the conversations.