Wednesday, 30 May 2007

James Martin reviews his ten favourite films, Part 4

Swimming Pool
France 2003
Director: François Ozon
Screenwriter: François Ozon
Runtime: 102 mns
Certificate: 15
DVD distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
(contains plot spoilers)

Acclaimed director François Ozon's thriller is a haunting, surreal tale of passion and intrigue, set amidst the sun-drenched vineyards of south central Provence. Charlotte Rampling is Sarah, an uptight, constipated English writer who goes to stay at her publisher's (Charles Dance) holiday home, in search of inspiration. It all seems a paradise of tranquillity, until Dance's promiscuous, fun-loving nineteen year-old daughter, Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) unexpectedly arrives. Before long, she upsets Rampling's old-fashioned values with her topless swimming, sunbathing and abuse of the house as a nightly, drug-fuelled disco-brothel. Just as the pair come to a mutual understanding, the hysterical girl viciously murders one of her partners in the heat of the moment….

The cinematography, with its slow, still shots of the sleepy summer countryside only enhance a feeling of eerie mystery, which works well with the equally dream-like, but utterly ambiguous ending. Touches of humour abound in the stereotypical contrast between Rampling's dour English haughtiness and Sagnier's French Lolita. However, the film's greatest asset is its gripping suspense, brought about by long moments of tense, rigid silence, dramatic facial expressions and the expanse of emptiness surrounding the whitewashed villa.

The unexpected bond formed between the two women is an integral part of the mystery and Charles Dance's brief role is in fact far more pivotal to the story line than it first appears. Swimming Pool is a fascinating portrayal of how unsettling past events and secrets can suddenly rear their ugly heads with cataclysmic effects.

UK 1968
Director: Carol Reed
Screewriter: Vernon Harris
Runtime: 153 mns
Certificate: PG
DVD distributor: Columbia TriStar

Carol Reed's deliberate saccharine portrayal of 1830s London, not to mention an unabashed sweetening of Dickens’ novel with several ounces of Tate and Lyle can be excused, for Oliver! is a fantastic musical with memorable songs and a first-class cast. Mark Lester makes a timid and highly credible young Oliver, Ron Moody is humorous as hard up skinflint Fagin, Oliver Reed plays a brutal Bill Sykes, but Shani Wallis steals the show as poor, kind-hearted, frustrated Nancy.

This version also deserves a mention as the first to re-tell the story in a non-monochrome format and in particular scenes, such as when Nancy is bludgeoned by Sykes, the exaggerated use of Technicolor is beautifully poignant, as her dress appears strikingly crimson. It would be so easy to ruin Charles Dickens with too much syrup and a lively score, but Carol Reed ensures that only so much edge is removed and that hardship and poverty are never far away.

Shani Wallis gives the best and most spirited performance by far, as she claims "civil words, civil words- God help me, you've had me out there on the streets since I was 'alf 'is age!" The film's most unforgettable scene is when Nancy snatches Oliver from the tavern, having engaged the other drinkers in a flurry of "Oom Pa Pa" to distract Moody and Reed. It is such a moving contrast with the subsequent outcome for her.

In order to create a family classic from the story of Oliver Twist, it is perhaps necessary to play down the sombreness and present particular aspects through a rose-tinted lens. With all of the essential ingredients, Reed has folded the mixture to just the right consistency.

Read the final Part 5 tomorrow!

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