Marianne and Jean-Paul are presented to us frankly: Deray randily films their entwined, near-naked, nut-brown bodies as they paw at each other like flesh-famished beasts beside the turquoise shimmer of the titular pool. But as our knowledge of their inner lives swells, their physical beauty becomes less distracting.
Jean Paul (in many ways a typical Delon role - amoral, chilly and hypnotically handsome) wastes no time in bedding Penelope, using her to get back at Marianne and Harry for their past relationship. Harry, for his part, is an ageing narcissist in the throes of a classic mid-life crisis: he drives a low-slung sports car (his “monster”), wears chiffon shirts and ball-dividing Pierre Cardin strides and in his cheerful vanity, seems never less than utterly sure of his prowess and power. And just as Jean-Paul used the gauche, gorgeous Penelope, her father seems to have no qualms about doing so too, using her to bolster his vanity (“He loves it when people think I’m his girlfriend” she says sadly to Marianne). She is only 18, yet already marked for the unhappiness displayed by the three older characters. Marianne’s sensitivity and horror at the way events unfold reveal her to be less the flighty, languid Euro-beauty she’s initially presented as, though she’s not the film’s moral compass – she never uses her dreadful knowledge of events to help bring about justice.
La Piscine’s only outstanding flaw – aside from being overlong - lays in the endless oblique signposting in each line of dialogue, which creates an infinite sense of mistrust between the viewer and the four characters from the start. The most throwaway lines are weighted with a suspicious, terse delivery and sideways shift of the eyes, but only a few turn out to carry any further meaning. As a result, it often feels like bulging nets of red herrings are being dumped into the pool itself. Ultimately though, the pool-as-metaphor device is successful: when we delve beneath the surfaces of the lives on display, the confusion, contradiction and all-too-human lack of clarity is akin to the sensory deprivation experienced by a swimmer plunging unprotected below the water’s surface.