Directed by Jacques Deray; Written by Jean-Claude Carrière and Jacques Deray
Nothing will make you long for the heat-dazed bliss of summer vacation like the opening 20 minutes of La Piscine, Jacques Deray’s arsenic-laced cocktail of a summertime chill-thrill. Nothing will throw cold water on those vibes like what comes after.
Jean-Paul, writer turned marketing exec, lazes by the edge of the pool, sweat running off him as he lets his fingers glide through the water. He moves a drink to his lips, too sun stunned to sit up. His girlfriend Marianne comes out the pool, walks along the edge, Deray’s camera watching her in male-gaze appreciation, and lays down on top of Jean-Paul, who embraces her with longing for both her and the refreshing water running off her. They almost make love then and there, because here the rest of the world melts away. That is, until the phone rings and the world intrudes.
It’s a mutual friend of theirs, Harry, who soon after arrives with his 18-year old daughter Penelope in tow. The erotic opening minutes and their immaculate vibes soon evaporate to make room for jealousy, neuroticism and non-stop pointed comments and side glances, as Harry circles Marianna and Jean-Paul begins taking long glances at Penelope. Cool heads won’t prevail.
Alain Delon belongs in color. Not in black-and-white like Rocco and his Brothers, where he’s vulnerable in the deep shadows. Not in the cool blues of Le Samouraï, where his assassin is equally cool and at arm’s length. He belongs in color, here, in La Piscine, all the more handsome as he comes alive with bronzed skin, short trunks, wet, pitch-black hair and the blue sky behind him. As Jean-Paul, he’s envious, hurt, malicious and afraid, stuck under the burning sun that suddenly makes him run cold. Much more human than he ever was, or at least much more vibrant and alive and able to unfold.
Flanking him is Romy Schneider as Marianna, fierce and independent while desired by all. Delon and her were lovers once, and La Piscine sees them reunite, and the embers don’t stay that way. They’re at home with each other, on-screen and within each other’s proximity, and when the tensions rise, the jealousy feels almost a little too-lived in. Schneider has a calm to her that jives well with Delon’s moody skittishness and together they’re hard to look away from, for obvious reasons initially, but later with how much they manage to let hang between them.
Attractive people and bodily passion aside, the trapping of La Piscine are up to match, with the film almost entirely unfolding at this countryside villa filled with 60s chic decor and dubious furniture. Interior decoration enthusiasts, there’s eye candy for you too. It truly is everyone’s European getaway fantasy come to life.
La Piscine is a mirage, however, albeit an irresistible one. Star power, eroticism in spades draws you in and soon you’re trapped along with everyone else in relationship mind games that tap into every couple’s insecurities. It’s an essential summer thriller that anyone can return to again and again if only for how indelible the atmosphere is. The ultimate bait-and-switch couple’s movie.