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Under the Sand

June 12, 2013

Under the Sand (2000)
Director: François Ozon
Actors: Charlotte Rampling, Bruno Cremer, Jacques Nolot

Under the Sand

Synopsis: A fiftysomething Parisian couple, Marie (Charlotte Rampling) and Jean Drillon (Bruno Cremer), head down to Lit-et-Mixe in the south west of France for a short break. Jean goes inexplicably missing while swimming at the local beach, and his body is never recovered. Months later, Marie is getting on with her life in Paris, living in a form of denial about Jean’s disappearance/death, but the discovery of a body in Lit-et-Mixe threatens to challenge those fragile delusions.

Review: Less is more in this stripped-down, utterly compelling dramatisation of how a woman copes when her husband goes inexplicably missing (presumed dead) while on holiday in the south west of France. François Ozon finds exactly the right tone for telling the story, particularly in a subtly atmospheric opening stretch – played out elliptically, almost like a silent movie – as we become party to a seemingly normal, gentle 24 hours in the lives of Jean and Marie Drillon as they drive down to their holiday home in the south west of France, before heading to the local beach the following morning, where Jean eventually disappears. We know no more than the protagonists do, so the accumulating bewilderment of Marie – as she begins to conscience the immensity of what is unfolding on the beach as her husband fails to show – is tangible, and helps set the tone for the remainder of the film, which is a dissection of Marie’s frayed, and ultimately flawed, coping mechanism as she returns to a ‘normal’ life in Paris.

Other than Ozon’s masterful cinematic grammar, the film’s other chief asset is the mesmeric persona of Charlotte Rampling. The story simply wouldn’t work without such a compelling, suggestive presence, and her eyes and expressions alone convey so much of the complexity of this woman’s tactics of denial in the period after her husband goes missing. Equally clever is how Ozon never makes explicit the full truth of what happened to Jean: he may have died accidentally, committed suicide, or possibly – just possibly – fabricated an escape to start a new life. In a sense, it doesn’t matter what happened to Jean, but the mere existence of these different possibilities is what truly entraps Marie. In the end, things go full circle as Marie rejects the offer of certifying Jean’s death, in essence submitting herself forever more to her gilded state of denial. (June 2013)

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