Review: Jacques Deray's Languid, Erotic 'La Piscine' Arrives on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday July 30, 2021

What happens when lovers vacation at an idyll spot in the French Riviera and are abruptly visited by people that bring out their deepest and worst impulses? Sex and murder, of course!

That familiar plot is given new depth in the languid, erotic "La Piscine," directed by the underrated Jacques Deray, who cut his teeth on the film industry by working and studying other directors like Luis Bunuel, Jules Dassin, and other prominent French filmmakers. And while Deray never really made something quite like "La Piscine" later on in his career, it stands as one of his most accomplished works — a sneakily erotic and tempestuous thriller that's filled with moments designed to obfuscate details and lure the viewer in.

The Criterion Collection brings "La Piscine" to Blu-ray with a new 1080p presentation sourced from a new 4K restoration. While this new presentation does look a bit clunky and grainy at times, especially during the nighttime scenes, this is an altogether pleasing showcase of warm flesh tones and saturated colors that feel natural to the film's setting. There's a handful of special features to enjoy as well, including a new interview with stars Alain Delon and Jane Birkin that gives a bit of depth to Deray's approach during the production of the film.

Slow-burn suspense and erotic longing take the center stage in "La Piscine," which follows young lovers Marianne (Romy Schneider) and Jean-Paul (Alain Delon) as they spend their vacation in a villa on the French Riviera near St-Tropez. After a surprise visit from Marianne's former lover, Harry (Maurice Ronet), and his virginal daughter, Penelope (Jane Birkin), Marianne invites the duo to stay with them. Tensions naturally rise between Jean-Paul and Harry, while Penelope's presence brings out Jean-Paul's own mysterious history.

Jacques Deray employs long, lugubrious tracking shots liberally in "La Piscine." But as the camera tracks the movement of these characters, it's also tracking their internal struggles and the way that the titular swimming pool at the villa also plays like a petri dish of desire and sensuality. Even though the film takes unpredictable twists, they're all rooted in a modernist cool and anchored by Michel Legrand's laid-back score, making the film just unsettling enough without overdoing it.

If you're a fan of Alain Delon or French cinema in general, I'd recommend picking up "La Piscine," as it feels like a film belonging to a very specific time and place. But much more than just a historical artifact, it showcases Deray's talents in ways that few of his films actually do. This release comes recommended.

Other special features include:

•The Swimming Pool: "First Love Never Dies," the English-language version of the film
• "Fifty Years Later, "a 2019 documentary by Agnys Vincent-Deray featuring actors Alain Delon and Jane Birkin, screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, and novelist Jean-Emmanuel Conil
• New interview with scholar Nick Rees-Roberts on the film's cinematic and aesthetic legacy
• Archival footage featuring Delon, Birkin, actors Romy Schneider and Maurice Ronet, and director Jacques Deray
• Alternate ending
• Trailers
• New English subtitle translation
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Jessica Kiang

"La Piscine" is now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.