Under the Sand
review by Paula Nechak, 1 June 2001
is more in Francois Ozon's marvelous mystery which slyly finds
resolution by not resolving itself. It's a beguiling, interiorized
and spare piece that's grounded with an extraordinary performance by
Charlotte Rampling. Rampling, if you recall, is the '60s/'70s
British screen siren whose svelte presence and cobra eyes graced The
Night Porter and Woody Allen's best movie, Stardust Memories
and who, after a long stretch raising children and taking only a few
small roles - Wings of the Dove for one - has returned to
movies (she's a marvel in Jonathan Nossiter's Signs & Wonders)
with a vengeance.
she's Marie, a fiftyish college professor in Paris, teaching the
novellas of Virginia Woolf and quoting The Waves to her class
with prophetic haunting. Marie is relishing the upcoming summer
holiday and she and her sloth-like, hulking husband, Jean (Bruno
Cremer), are on their way to Jean's family beach house. The couple
arrive and ready the house, eat spaghetti, drink an old bottle of
wine and discuss their plans for their first day of vacation.
morning they're on the way to the beach. Jean says he's going for a
swim. Marie replies she's going to read a paperback. He rubs lotion
on her back and ambles to the water. She fades into a deep,
sun-stoked sleep. When she awakes, Jean is nowhere to be found.
Marie runs up and down the beach, asking a couple if they've seen
her husband. No one has. She races to the shore police and an
investigation is begun. But Jean has disappeared. Has he drowned -
or has he plotted the abandonment and left her?
the film returns to Paris, Marie seems at peace with her solitary
life. But we begin to see that Jean has never left her. She prepares
meals, talks to her husband, greets him when she returns from dinner
at a colleague's home and accepts the advances of a businessman who
is smitten with her. To the world's eyes she is functioning
perfectly after her loss. But Marie resolutely rejects any one or
thing that appears final as far as Jean's absence.
And that is the element that propels Under the Sand
over its kin. This is no sexual-hysteria piece like Roman Polanski's
Repulsion, in which Catherine Deneuve becomes murderously
unbalanced. Indeed, the fantasy Marie fuels is preferential, almost
a life choice to Marie, even if her friends think otherwise and Jean
is only a manifestation of her denial.
Ozon turns this lean storyline into a complexity of middle-age
crisis. Marie's reading of Woolf - "What have I lost? I have
lost my youth" - becomes key to this astute film. More
amazingly, Ozon, only in his 30's, delves into the corners of a
middle-age woman's mind, grasping her fear of the future and that
which is unknown.
has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock's films but I find it more
elliptical and deft and with a firmer grip on that elusive woman's
terrain - a place Hitch knew little about. It's to Ozon's credit
that he can interchange the equations of possibility in his movies
and make us believe them too. His lean visuals compliment the
action, giving us only the essential information we need with hardly
any gloss or peripheral artiness to distract us from Marie's
prejudiced point of view. By the end, he - and Rampling - conjure up
a ghost story that haunts because its ghosts lie within the living,
not the dead.
Charlotte Rampling Bruno Cremer
NR - Note Rated
This film has not
yet been rated.