Under The Sand

2000, Movie, R, 95 mins


A haunting tale of sudden loss and enduring grief, this drama about a vanished husband marks a departure for director François Ozon, whose earlier films dealt primarily with lives destroyed by unspoken desires. Marie Drillon (Charlotte Rampling), a professor of English literature at a Parisian university, and Jean (Bruno Cremer), her husband of 25 years, are spending the summer at their cabin near the beach. One day Jean announces he's off for a swim — and never returns. The police can't find a body or any leads, and a stunned Marie returns to Paris, alone. Time passes. Marie dines with friends and speaks of Jean in the present tense, talking as if he simply couldn't make that evening's soiree. Marie's American friend Amanda (Alexandra Stewart) and her fellow guest Vincent (Jacques Nolot), a successful architect, are concerned, but after Vincent drives Marie home, there is Jean, looking tired but nevertheless happy to see her. Is it really him? A ghost? A memory? Ozon skillfully allows for all three possibilities — all equally real in cinematic terms — but as Marie begins a tentative affair with Vincent, the director gradually reveals the truth she denies. The film ends with a return to the beach, and one of the most psychologically chilling and expertly photographed shots imaginable. Ozon, moving from youthful characters to mature but no less sexually hungry fiftysomethings, has risen to the next level as a filmmaker; he's less precocious, but just as assured. He elicits a chemistry between Cremer and Rampling that makes one signature scene, in which bed-top petting segues into a subtle fantasy, feel emotionally convincing. The British-born Rampling, working in French, remarkably delivers what is perhaps her deepest, most effortlessly nuanced performance. If her iconic face has mellowed from angular to kindly, it's no less shaded by vulnerable confusion. Ozon does tend to press a point long after it's been made — one sex scene is pushed well past arousing and into anthropology — but this exploration of devastating loss and our imperfect mechanisms for dealing with it resonates with a pathos that's well beyond mere sadness. leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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Under The Sand
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