“It’s vicarious,” said Mr. Goldstein, as he tried to explain why a 50-year-old French film starring actors largely unknown in America was such a hit. “It’s a holiday in the South of France that many people can’t take. There is also the incredible magnetism and chemistry of the two stars, who were true lovers.”
The film is classified as a psychological thriller, but for new viewers, very little happens until the very end. “Can you believe there’s another hour of this?” I heard an older woman marvel at her friend, almost half way through.
“A Bigger Splash,” the great 2015 remake starring Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton, which Americans may be more familiar with, maintains the main plot lines, but, as the title suggests, it’s plenty smashing. In that version, the drowning is an accidental crime of passion, far from the cold, calculating murder of “La Piscine”; the dialogue is faster, the cuts sharper, the music louder.
Watching it, after taking a deep dive (ahem) into the original, I became acutely aware that the very absence of action, the unabashed decadence, kept drawing me back to the theater. This is not a film interested in judging la belle vie.
Even as I became more sensitive to the subtleties of the film’s dialogue (“the first swim really takes it out of you,” Marianne says, when Penelope returns from the beach after losing her virginity to Jean-Paul), I persisted. more interested in just watching beautiful people doing very little. “Tomorrow I’m going to have a long siesta,” Marianne says, lying on a couch in her bathing suit after a day at the pool. Yes please.
That a film so rooted in the gratuitous has resonated in 2021 is perhaps not entirely surprising. After a year in which New York City has suffered huge losses and its inhabitants lived very limited lives, it is understandable that we want to take off our clothes and have fun, on screen and off.