Wednesday, August 24, 2011

#383. Under the Sand (2000)

Directed By: Francois Ozon

Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Bruno Cremer, Jacques Nolot

Tag line: "Can love vanish without a trace?"

Trivia:  Under the Sand was nominated for 3 Cesar Awards, including Best Film

Francois Ozon’s Under the Sand is a tense, troubling drama; the story of a woman whose life is thrown into chaos when her husband vanishes without a trace. It is a loss so devastating to her that the only way she can get through the day is to pretend it never happened. 

English teacher Marie Drillon (Charlotte Rampling) has been happily married to Jean (Bruno Cremer) for many years. While the two are away on vacation, they decide to take a day trip to the beach, where Marie naps while Jean goes for a swim. When Marie wakes from her nap, Jean is nowhere to be found. After a frantic search ends in frustration, the authorities have little choice but to presume that Jean has drowned. Marie does eventually get on with her life, returning to work and socializing with friends, yet she cannot accept the fact that Jean may be gone forever. For her, his disappearance is an unending riddle, one that eats away at her mind: Is Jean dead, or did he simply leave her, looking to start a new life on his own? The answers are elusive, leaving Marie emotionally stilted, and clinging to the fading hope that Jean will one day return to her. 

One of the strengths of Under the Sand is the way it shields its central mystery. Truth be told, we’re as much in the dark regarding Jean’s true fate as Marie. After all, we never actually see Jean go into the water. Did he really go swimming, as he said he was going to do, or did he take advantage of Marie's decision to nap, and run off? Like Marie, we simply don’t know, but unlike her, we come to accept that, with each passing day, Jean’s return is increasingly unlikely, especially when you consider that there are only two possible scenarios to explain his disappearance. One, he drowned; two, he quietly walked away. Whichever is the actual chain of events, it’s clear that a joyful reunion of man and wife will never occur. 

Under the Sand is still utterly fascinating, thanks in large part to the wonderful performance of Charlotte Rampling, who strikes the perfect balance between maturity and repudiation. In most films, when a character is in denial, he or she will act in a completely atypical manner, either losing control of their emotions or roaming through life in a daze. To her credit, Rampling never falls back on the obvious in her portrayal. While her Marie is certainly in denial, she nonetheless remains resilient, strong-willed, and always in control, which is how a woman of Marie’s stature would handle such a calamity. 

Marie is the tragic figure of Under the Sand, a woman who could easily survive on her own, yet has no desire to do so, holding on tight to a hope that's been all but extinguished. In the end, we do not weep for Jean; whether dead or alive, he has at least reached an end. Our tears are reserved for Marie. For her, there is no end in sight.

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