Deep End (1970)
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Plot: 15-year-old Mike takes a job at the local swimming baths, where he becomes obsessed with an attractive young woman, Susan, who works there as an attendant.
Awards: Nom. for 1 BAFTA - best supporting actress.
Rating: M18 for sexual situations and nudity.
One of the most underrated Polish directors, Jerzy Skolimowski is no less talented than Kieslowski, Wajda, or Polanski. Take a look at Deep End and you will see why this cinematic master deserves more recognition, at least compared to his more well-known compatriots. Skolimowski writes and directs Deep End, perhaps the defining work of his long career as a filmmaker. It stars John Moulder-Brown and Jane Asher, with the latter nominated for a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress. Actually, Asher’s role as Susan is much more than a supporting one; she is the central figure of the entire film as the whole narrative revolves around her.
This is despite the plot being told from the perspective of Mike (Moulder-Brown), a 15-year old boy who takes a job at the local public pool and becomes infatuated with Susan who works there. Infatuation turns into obsession as Mike pursues her, or I should put it more clearly, her sexualized body. In one sequence, Mike discovers a life-size cardboard cutout of a topless Susan outside a brothel and brings it onboard a train, confronting her in the midst of bemused passengers. Mike’s determination to possess Susan and win her heart results in a myriad of circumstances that would pave way for a tragic yet morbidly beautiful ending.
What Skolimowski does exceptionally well is his handling of young actors Moulder-Brown and Asher, both of whom create an overwhelming sense of sexual tension with over-the-shoulder glances, nervous nods, and instances of flirting. The director himself shoots Asher suggestively, often at angles that highlight her sexuality, allowing viewers to lust at her from a distance. All these are part of the experience of watching Deep End, which is not only a character study on one boy’s sexual awakening, but also a masterclass in the art of mood change – from that of a light-hearted comedy to a boy-meets-girl drama to something erotic and disturbing.
This mood change is ever so subtle, but visual hints that seem irrelevant at first glance point to a potential devastating climax such as a painter who paints part of a wall blood red, or when a shot of Susan’s cutout floats on the pool with Mike diving into it. The strong performances by the actors convince us of their attitudes toward each other, but we can’t be sure what they think. Yet it is their antics throughout the film, as part of their emotional reactions toward certain events, that when taken collectively, motivate how the climax would turn out.
This is what makes Deep End such an effective film – you have an idea of how things are going to be, but you won’t notice the intricacies of the aforementioned mood change until it hits you in the gut at the end. The final half-hour starting with the scene of Mike running in the snow until the climax in the “deep end” of the pool is cinema at its most mesmerizing. Skolimowski’s mastery of camera framing allows the tension to build up, until it could not be built up anymore, that’s when everything explodes in a flood of visual imagery that could only simply be described as breathtaking.
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