Is bliss an adequate substitute for passion or self fulfilment? An attractive couple live together in what is essentially paradise in 1969's La Piscine (The Swimming Pool), their indolent day to day routines seeming to revolve mostly around their swimming pool where they answer their own and each other's physical needs. When an old friend comes to visit with his daughter, it becomes a remarkably subtle film about the way people read one another and how they do so to satisfy or protect emotional needs.
Jean-Paul (Alain Delon) is a writer whose latest novel was unsuccessful. His girlfriend, Marianne (Romy Schneider), is a writer, too, though it's not clear what sort of writer--Harry (Maurice Ronet) compliments a published piece of writing that Marianne wrote.
Harry and Jean-Paul are old friends and they've known each other longer than Jean-Paul and Marianne have been together--Marianne is Harry's ex-girlfriend. Harry brings along his remarkably mature looking eighteen year old daughter Penelope (Jane Birkin) whom he seems about as fascinated by as everyone else, if not more so.
We learn that he had only recently discovered Penelope when he went back to visit an old girlfriend. Penelope confides to Jean-Paul that Harry loves to parade her about, delighted when people think she's his girlfriend. She tells Jean-Paul that Harry doesn't really like him, that Harry doesn't like anyone but wants everyone to love him.
Jean-Paul and Penelope seem drawn to each other. Penelope probably because Jean-Paul is played by Alain Delon and he has an an incredibly cool demeanour. Jean-Paul seems like someone extraordinarily self-contained. He doesn't talk much and seems most of the time like a contented cat.
We learn he had quit drinking some time ago overnight and he doesn't seem remotely tempted by the omnipresent bottle of Johnnie Walker. Strangely, the impression I had was that it is depression that keeps him away from it.
Why is he drawn to Penelope? Because he sees her as Harry's possession? He seems slightly ruffled by the instinctive physical intimacy between Marianne and Harry though he seems more surprised by Harry's indelicacy than angry. Is he just bored with Marianne? Is it Penelope's youthful innocence? The viewer is invited to consider all these possibilities and it seems as though Jean-Paul is wondering about the answer, too.
This is a story about two psychologically healthy women and two damaged men. Though of the two, Harry's narcissism seems to be the more obtrusive issue, Jean-Paul's emotional disconnect is stranger and at the same time comes across as a more insightful portrait of humanity. In the latter half of the film, Marianne becomes the point of view character and we join her in wondering just who this man is as, she says, she feels like she's seeing him for the first time. She doesn't even seem sure whether she loves him or hates him.