Swimming Pool, The (La Piscine) (1969): Jacques Deray’s Superb Erotic Thriller, Starring Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Maurice Ronet and Jane Birkin

Jacques Deray directed expertly La Piscine (The Swimming Pool), an intriguing psychological erotic thriller, starring Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Maurice Ronet and Jane Birkin.

La Piscine

French film poster


It was the first of nine films Delon and director Jacques Deray made together, and the only one the star didn’t produce.

It also marked the onscreen reunion of Delon and Romy Schneider, his co-star in Christine (1958) and romantic partner up to 1963.

Set in summertime on the Côte d’Azur, the drama explores erotic desire, sexual jealousy, and possessiveness.

Both French and English-language versions of the film were made, with the actors speaking English for the international release, which was unusual at a time when movies were either dubbed or subtitled.

Writer Jean-Paul (Ronet) and Marianne (Schneider), his girlfriend of several years, are vacationing at a friend’s villa, but there’s evident tension in their relationship.

The film begins with a scene in which they are beside the villa’s swimming pool and she urges him to claw her back. He does, but then throws her into the pool and jumps in after her. In a later scene, he uses a branch to lash her bare buttocks, first playfully, then more forcefully.

Things change when Harry, an old friend and Marianne’s lover before Jean-Paul, arrives for a visit. He surprises the couple by bringing along his young daughter Penelope, whose existence they had not known.

Harry draws Marianne back towards him as the days go by. Taunting Jean-Paul for having given up serious writing for advertising, Harry drinks and throws a surprise party while Jean-Paul, a recovering alcoholic, stays sober.

Meanwhile, it becomes clear that Penelope neither likes nor respects her father, whom she has barely known while growing up. She and Jean-Paul become close and spend a day alone together by the sea.

That night, while the women are asleep, the two men confront each other. Harry falls into the pool and is too drunk to swim. Jean-Paul, who has also been drinking, at first stops him from climbing out of the water, then deliberately pushes Harry under until he drowns. He covers up the crime by hiding Harry’s wet clothes, making it look like an accident.

After the funeral, Inspector Lévêque visits the house, confiding to Marianne his reasons for doubting the story of accident. When she tells Jean-Paul, he confesses, but she does not contact the police, and the inquiry is dropped.

Marianne takes Penelope to the airport and sees her off as she returns to her mother. She and Jean-Paul are then about to leave the villa when she tells him they will not go together. He prevents her from calling a taxi, and silenced her.

In the end, neither leaves. In the film’s final shot, they stand side by side looking out the window at the swimming pool, and then embrace.

The film, which is stunningly designed and shot, offers a perspective on how chic people, who live a sophisticated (if empty) amoral lifestyle, become defenseless against the forces of primal passion and carnal desire.

The pool is sorts of a primordial place of desire, a physical and symbolic space in which there is nothing to do but laze around and engage in erotic games, including looking at semi-naked bodies and craving for attention.

Hugely popular in France, La Piscine was the fourth most commercial movie at the box office in 1969. but did not fare very well in the U.S.

The 2016 film A Bigger Splash, directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Dakota Johnson, is loosely based on La Piscine.

Christian Dior Eau Sauvage cologne ad campaign used some images, cashing in on the international popularity of Alain Delon as a star and sex symbol.

Delon said he could not watch this film again as his ex-lover Romy Schneider and good friend Maurice Ronet had both died prematurely and in tragic circumstances; Revisiting the scenes was simply too painful for him.

Romy Schneider as Marianne
Alain Delon as Jean-Paul
Maurice Ronet as Harry Lannier
Jane Birkin as Penelope Lannier
Paul Crauchet as Inspector Lévêque


Directed by Jacques Deray
Written by Jacques Deray, Jean-Claude Carrière, and Alain Page
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography Jean-Jacques Tarbès
Edited by Paul Cayatte
Distributed by Avco Embassy (US)

Release date: January 31, 1969 (France)
Running time: 120 minutes
Box office 2,341,721 admissions (France)