Sarah, an aging and
slightly uptight mystery novelist (Charlotte Rampling) is unhappy with the
direction her life is taking. Her publisher (and possible lover?) offers to
loan her his cottage on the French countryside, so that she can work on her
latest novel in peace. She is relishing the solitude, but is surprised by
the publishers beautiful, free-spirited, sexually active daughter Julie (Ludivine
Sagnier) arriving to stay.
This simple set-up leads to one of the most
fascinating character studies in recent films. At first, the novelist is
annoyed by the intrusion. Soon, the young girl fascinates her, though.
Sarah spies on Julie as she swims in the nude by the pool, sneaks peeks into
her diary, witnesses the subtle nubile power the girl uses to get men do
anything for her. Sarah becomes amazed by the way Julie uses the natural
animal sexuality as an extension of herself, envying the
freedom and ability that Sarah feels that she has lost; yet at the same time
she tentatively tries to see if she can still tempt men in the same way.
Julies reaction to Sarah is nearly as complex; she enjoys tormenting the
older woman with her erotic power, and yet she does come to see her as a bit
of a mother figure and feels a strange need to get the womans approval.
The two start a subtle game of one-upmanship, each one raising the
tension. The writer grows attracted to a waiter
(Jean-Marie Lamour) in a neighboring town.
Julie spitefully invites him back home
to flaunt her power
over men, but also
to tempt the older woman to break out of her shell.
This disastrous move
escalates quickly to anger, then violence. Rampling and Sagnier are
exquisite in the roles, doing a sensuous tango of spite and lust. Rampling,
who would have played the young femme fatale a few decades ago, still can
portray a fire of passion in her eyes and can show the streaming need in
simple body language. Sagnier, on the other hand, is able to juggle a
casual sensuality with a charming innocence and naiveté
and a very real need for approval.
aspects of the film are not as important as the fascinating war of wills
that leads to it. In fact, I believe the conclusion of
might be a bit too surreal for most audiences. (I pride myself in my
ability to decipher most any mystery, and I think I do
understand what writer/director François Ozon is trying to do here, but if anyone can explain exactly what
the ending means, please email us and clarify it.) Still, the acting and
the pace and the directing and the story are so exquisite that any confusion
you may feel at the finale does not spoil what is otherwise a wonderful
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Posted: July 21, 2003.