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La piscine (Blu-ray Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film
The Video
The Audio
The Supplements
Overall

SUMMARY

When lovers Marianne's (Remy Schneider) and Jean-Paul's (Alain Delon) vacation at a villa in the French Riviera near Saint-Tropez is disrupted by her former lover and his former mentor Harry (Maurice Ronet) and his beautiful eighteen-year-old daughter Pénélope (Jane Birkin) tensions begin to rise between everyone especially when Harry tries to win back Marianne and Jean-Paul tries to seduce Pénélope.

La piscine or The Swimming Pool is a slow-burn, romantic thriller from director Jacques Deray (Borsalino) set at in a villa against the sunny and lavish backdrop of the French Riviera near Saint-Tropez.

Lovers Marianne (Romy Schneider) and Jean-Paul (Alain Delon) are spending their vacation at a beautiful villa near Saint-Tropez. The heat is becoming unbearable, but the key feature of the villa is a beautiful pool that they use to lounge around, swim in and cool themselves down. The film opens with Marianne and Jean-Paul by the pool getting frisky with each other in a sensual shot scene that could double as contemporary perfume add. But there’s already some hints of something unsettling bubbling under the surface as Marianne tries to pull away from their embrace to go answer the telephone and Jean-Paul picks her up and throws her in the pool. The topless Marianne eventually makes her way out and gets to the phone.

The call sparks a string of events that will lead to the characters’ undoing. Jean-Paul is immediately uneasy, he knows who she’s talking to on the other end. It’s their mutual friend Harry (Maurice Ronet), Marianne’s former lover and Jean-Paul’s old mentor. He is coming to stay with the couple, and he arrives driving his red Maserati, engine growling, and with his beautiful eighteen-year-old daughter Pénélope (Jane Birkin).

Over the course of the next couple of days, tensions between Marianne, Harry, and Jean-Paul continue to rise and reach a boiling point during a drunken party when Harry returns from Saint-Tropez with a crowd of strangers and openly tries to seduce Marianne in front of Jean-Paul. Meanwhile, Jean-Paul, who has been lusting after Harry’s daughter decides to cross the line with Pénélope. This leads to tragedy.

People looking for nonstop action, a twist-a-minute thriller in La piscine need to look elsewhere. This is a film of languor, heat, sensuality, and slow-burning rage that bubbles up to the surface unexpectedly. Deray shoots this in such a contemporary, modern sort of way, so the visual aesthetic plays a big part of the film. This is not necessarily in the nouvelle vague school of filmmaking, but certainly a stylish, arthouse/pop art sort of look. The performances from the leads also make for a big part of the success of this film. There is palpable chemistry between Delon and Schneider, Birkin plays the perfect impish young woman, and Ronet couldn’t be any better as the loutish outsider disrupting the utopian peace.

Deray shot both the French and English version (The Swimming Pool: “First Love Never Dies”) simultaneously taking advantage of the multilingual capabilities of the cast. So, the English version is not a dub, but a simultaneously shot version with some slightly different takes that is a couple minutes shorter.

The Video

This 4K restoration of La piscine was done by the Société Nouvelle de Cinématographe with the support of CNC at Labratoire Daems in Paris and Hiventy in Joinville-le-Pont, France from the original 35mm camera negative. The Blu-ray from Criterion Collection is offered in an AVC 1080p encodement framed in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. I would point out that this is yet another great film that cinephiles, home theater lovers, and everyone else, is so far being denied a 4K Ultra HD release of thanks to Criterion’s reluctance, hesitance, or whatever it is at this point to release on the format. The film is available in Europe on 4K.

The Criterion Blu-ray is indeed a beautiful transfer that is so rich in color and detail it almost makes up for the lack of a 4K release. The beautiful, cerulean blue of the pool that is central to the setting looks so enticing you may want to strip down to your skivvies and try to dive into it. Please don’t! The warm, sunny look of the French Riviera is well-captured, and the thinly layered grain looks filmic and organic. This is one of the best-looking Criterion catalogue releases have seen in 2021.

The Audio

The original monaural soundtrack was restored from the 35mm magnetic tracks and presented here in LPCM 1.0. The sound is clear and punchy in the midrange, but ultimately constrained somewhat in dynamic range not by the mastering but by the limitations of the format. That said, it sounds clean and intelligible.

The Supplements

Criterion packs this set with a collection of interviews, visual essays, and even the alternate English language version of the film (unrestored).

  • Fifty Years Later (1080p; 00:27:34) – Agnès Vincent-Deray, the widow of director Jacque Deray, made this short documentary on the production of La piscine in 2019, on the occasion of that film’s fiftieth anniversary. It features interviews with actors Alain Delon and Jane Birkin as well as screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière and Jean-Emmanuel Conil, who wrote the novel on which the screenplay was based.
  • The Swimming Pool: “First Love Never Dies” (1080p) – Taking advantage of its four lead actors’ multilingual abilities, La piscine was shot simultaneously in French and English near Saint-Tropez, France from August to October 1968. Presented here is the slightly shorter English-language version of the film, The Swimming Pool: “First Love Never Dies” – released outside of France in 1969. For it, director Jacque Deray made his edits based on performances, rather than doing a shot-by-shot re-creation of the French version.
  • Spanish Ending (1080p; 00:00:42) – Director Jacques Deray and his producers added the brief final shot presented here to La Piscine upon its release in Spain in 1969, to appease the Franco-era censors upset by its morally ambiguous original ending. The same shot also concludes the English-language version of the film.
  • Undressing a Legacy (1080p; 00:19:36) – In this interview, conducted by the Criterion Collection in spring 2021, scholar Nick Rees-Roberts traces the influence of La Piscine on the worlds of film and fashion in the half century since its release.
  • ’68-’69: Delon, Schneider & Co. (1080p; 00:15:18) – La piscine was one of the biggest art-house and commercial successes of 1969, due in part to the on-screen reunion of the former lovers Alain Delon and Romy Schneider. This selection of archival production and promotional footage features Delon, Schneider, actors Jane Birkin, and Maurice Ronet, and director Jacques Deray.
  • French & English Trailers (1080p)
  • Booklet: Essay by film critic Jessica Kiang

The Final Assessment

You can practically feel the heat and the sexual tension in this romance thriller from Jacques Deray while the Criterion Collection release is reference quality from start to finish. Highly Recommended.

La piscine is out on Blu-ray July 20, 2021 from Criterion Collection


  • Rating Certificate: GP
  • Studios & Distributors: Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC) | Tritone Cinematografica | The Criterion Collection
  • Director: Jacques Deray
  • Written By: Jacques Deray
  • Run Time: 122 Mins.
  • Street Date: 20 July 2021
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Video Format: AVC 1080p
  • Primary Audio: French LPCM 1.0
  • Subtitles: English
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