The bright sun of the French Riviera is deceptive in this languorously alluring exercise in slow-burn suspense from thriller specialist Jacques Deray and legendary screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière. Ten years after their breakup, one of European cinema’s most iconic real-life couples, Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, reunited for this film, bringing a palpable erotic chemistry to their performances as the bronzed and beautiful vacationers whose blissed-out summer holiday on the Côte d’Azur is interrupted by the arrival of an old acquaintance (Maurice Ronet) and his eighteen-year-old daughter (Jane Birkin)—unleashing a gathering tidal wave of sexual tension, jealousy, and sudden violence. A paragon of 1960s modernist cool thanks to effortlessly chic clothes and a loungy Michel Legrand score, La piscine dives deep to reveal sinister undercurrents roiling beneath its seductive surfaces.
The Criterion Collection presents Jacques Deray's La piscine on Blu-ray, presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a new 4K restoration of the film, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Though the presentation is generally pleasing there are some frustrating issues that manage to sneak their way in there. Again, the image looks generally good, and there are plenty of things to be happy about. Fine-object detail, for starters, really pops, every subtlety of the setting coming through cleanly and clearly. You can make out every strand of hair, every bead of water on a character's body, minute fibers on clothing, every pebble on a rocky road, and so on; it's really incredible just how crisp the image is, how much detail is actually available.
Colours definitely lean warm and there is a yellow tint to the image, yet, despite my usual aversion to the look, I was pleased with the end results. While blues are hard to come by, with cyan being more dominant, whites still manage to come off a warm off-white, not a heavy yellow, and the black levels haven't been severely impacted, the blacks never coming off milky or crushed. I can't say it's right as I don't know, and the alternate English version on this disc does not show the same look (blues are a little stronger, though colours come off a bit more anemic), but the look does actually suit the film, so I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up being close to how it should look. The restoration work has also been thorough, no damage of note ever popping up.
Where things end up falling short is in the digital encode. Criterion is hit-and-miss in this area, though I'd say that on a television, in motion, their presentations are still very strong on the whole, despite issues with banding and some macroblocking creeping in there recently. Sadly, this presentation ends up falling far shorter and the film is noticeably noisier in how it renders the grain: it has this buzzy, digital look, and it ends up being more prominent in the shadows and many of the film's darker scenes. It lends the image a far more digital look than I would like to see.
The brightness of the film manages to hide the effect a lot of the time while in motion, so it may not be a big concern for some, but when you notice it in the shadows or darker shots it actually gets a bit harder to ignore, and the reality is it's always there in some form. It's a shame in the end, as the restoration itself has some strong attributes.
The film's French PCM monaural soundtrack is perfectly fine. It's not all that dynamic but voices are clean, what music is there sounds sharp, and there is no damage to speak of.
Criterion's supplements start off with a 27-minute making-of documentary from 2019 entitled 50 Years Later, featuring interviews with author Jean-Emmanuel Conil, screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, and actors Alain Delon and Jane Birkin. It's an above average making-of, checking off the appropriate boxes when covering the production of the film, but I enjoyed listening to Carriere discuss the process of adapting Conil's original novel and Conil explaining where he felt the adaptation fell short despite loving the film. Delon also gets rather personal, explaining how the film is difficult for him to watch now.
The most notable inclusion is English-language version of the film, The Swimming Pool, presented from what appears to be an older master and with a Dolby Digital soundtrack. While this may not seem like a big deal this version is more than a simple dub: Deray, taking advantage of his multi-lingual cast, shot the film in French and English at the same time, using that alternate English-language footage for this version, a version that ends up running about 3-minutes shorter than the French version. Though it runs shorter the film is essentially the same, and the time difference simply comes down to slightly different edits and cuts, most of which are invisible, but there are a few that stick out. A couple that stick out: the conclusion of the central pool scene and another where Schneider's character investigates the wood pile in the cellar. Interestingly, the film also concludes differently, using the alternate Spanish ending (created to appease Franco's regime and avoid censoring), which is also included as a feature on its own. Schneider's character also speaks German on the phone in one sequence, where she spoke English in the French version of the film.
I found it a fun addition because of the different edit, though it's still basically the same film, the ending just less ambiguous. The presentation is also lackluster, looking barely above DVD quality, so (even with its issues) the main French presentation is the one most will more than likely want to stick with.
The disc also includes the English and French trailers, along with about 15-minutes' worth of archival material, including footage of Delon and Schneider arriving at the airport before shooting begins, footage from television programs covering the film's production, interviews with Deray and actor Maurice Ronet, and a German interview with Schneider. Criterion also includes a 19-minute interview with scholar Nick Rees-Roberts talking about the film as design cinema, delving into its fashions, pop art, mise-en-scene, furniture and more, drawing comparisons to other films focused heavily around their look, like those of Tom Ford (A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals), and films influenced directly by this one (François Ozon's Swimming Pool, Luca Guadagnino's A Bigger Splash), before getting into how it fits into Deray's filmography.
It's a fine enough analysis of the film's aesthetic but doesn't fill that academic void, even when paired with Jessica Kiang's essay found in the included insert, which covers the film and its impact. Though I ultimately can't fault the material, the supplements end up just feeling a bit rushed.
With a so-so set of supplements and a so-so presentation this edition feels slapped together.