Released slowly across the country earlier this summer, these two original European imports are currently causing quite a stink on the art-house movie circuit. Ironically, both films seem to want to give you one thing, and then sneakily deliver another while you get sidetracked with what you think to be the main story.
At first glance, both seem to be standard thrillers. In director Stephen Frears’ (“The Grifters,” “High Fidelity”) fearless and capable hands, “Dirty Pretty Things” starts out a rather shocking thriller. The terrific Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a Nigerian illegal alien in London who finds a human heart in the hotel that he works at as a desk clerk. From there, he and another immigrant, Audrey Tautou (“Amelie”), uncover a shocking underworld.
“Swimming Pool” also has a mystery at its core, as Charlotte Rampling (“Stardust Memories,” “Under the Sand”) plays an English mystery novelist caught up in a murder plot while trying to relax and finish her new book at her editor’s vacation home in the south of France. Ludivine Sagnier plays her editor’s sexually aggressive daughter, who also comes to visit the house.
But what we are treated to instead is something all the more challenging than a traditional mystery plot. The deeper the hole that is dug for Ejiofor and Tatou in “Dirty Pretty Things,” the more layers are added to their characters. Seeing these people’s reactions to the mounting terror of being discovered by the authorities, and the depths of their desperateness gives you deeper appreciation for them.
The struggle becomes more of a focus, and a way of revealing even more about the characters. Through this, and not essentially the mystery element of the plot, you begin to see the real story come into focus. Or I did, at least.
“Dirty Pretty Things” exposes a world I never thought existed, and yet here I was wrapped up in a love story as well. Who knew? I would be remiss if I forgot to mention, however, the chilling performance of Sergi Lopez, who was so great a couple of years back in “…With A Friend Like Harry.”
French filmmaker Francois Ozon wrote and directed “Swimming Pool,” which at all points is a more challenging and yet slightly less successful endeavor overall than “Dirty Pretty Things.” It is a very slow build, and there are hints along the way that something is not quite right.
Yes, there is a murder here, but it’s not handled like some clichéd whodunit, like Rampling’s character may have written. Instead, the murder itself is more a means to an end. The repressed Rampling learns more about herself and much about creative inspiration in the process, and I appreciated how wide the story was drawn. But the final twist left me a bit cold and somewhat unimpressed.
It’s almost as if the idea were better than actually executing it, although through no fault of the actors, who are uniformly believable and watchable (especially Sagnier, who is naked all the damn time).
Both of these movies show a darker, more mysterious side to London and France that I am not used to seeing, and both leave you with something to think about when you exit the theater.