Projections - Movie Reviews

Under the Sand

Under the Sand

Under the Sand (Sous le Sable) is a quiet, yet forceful film that represents high caliber art cinema work from director Francios Ozon who gets an astonishing performance from Charlotte Rampling.  Though its appeal is limited, those who experience Ozon's best film to date will know that it pulls them in with an unexpectedly potent undertow.

Ozon, one of four of the script's writers, focuses his deeply absorbing tale on Rampling's Marie Drillon, an English literature professor in a Paris university, and her tall, portly 60-ish husband, Jean (Bruno Cremer).  They have no children and have been together for twenty five years, and reach their summer home destination in southwest France without the noisy kids, younger couple, and uncomfortable heat and humidity.

Rampling's multifaceted portrayal hinges on the fact that Jean goes swimming in the ocean while she sunbathes face down on the sand and a foreboding panning shot of flies near Marie has some Hitchcock flair as her husband doesn't come back to his wife after she has awoken.

Marie questions at first whether he may have drowned, taken his life, or decided to start a new life for himself.  And the latter two could be possible considering how one reads the behavior of Jean's previous scenes with his wife.

Without contacting anyone, Marie drives back to the City of Lights to somehow resume her shattered life.  The kicker is that with no body to mourn, no sense of closure, this "widow" still believes that Jean is with her.  Denial puts her in an emotional state that teeters between hope and anxiety.

As Ozon closely examines Marie's psychological trauma, Under the Sand has a little of what M. Night Shyamalan brought to The Sixth Sense.  She sees Jean in the apartment after returning home and there's some uncertainty in what is being perceived through the reality and imagination of a woman whose mind is fragile but active.

This soft, yet penetrating small film is really a mystery and not designed for suspense, as this is an involving journey without a clear solution.  And the way Under the Sand begins, you would never know how subtly chilling it gets.

There are indications that the narrative may finally substantiate a rationality in what became of Jean as Marie, who is in fine shape for a woman in her mid-fifties, learns more at home and during a medical check-up.  What stands out in Under the Sand is the nuances and depth of this woman's manner of handling her grief as Rampling ranges from anger to wit with sensuality and casual emotional, if bruising charm.  In this way, Ozon adds a clever ambiguity to vanishing which strays from conventionality.

Throughout her ambitious role which she handles with unforeseen aplomb, Rampling's Marie has revealing scenes with English friend Amanda played with understanding and worry by Alexandra Stewart.  She does better with a blind date of a suitor who's "light," Jacques Nolot's gruff, but sensible Vincent who knows that there's a big hurdle in store for Marie that he has to be candid about.

Nearly in every scene, Rampling is captivating in her expressions in front of the camera as the beautiful British actress lets detailed emotions come out poignantly.  One of the fiercest times is her encounter with mother-in-law Suzanne, endowed with pungent assault by Andree Tainsy.

While a cinematic triumph of the spirit of holding on to a happy life, Under the Sand is difficult to watch knowing how close to the edge someone who finds solace from "The Waves" can be.  And Rampling channels marvelously into a woman who senses the need to be touched who must take a spiritual path under the sand.

Under the Sand

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