Under The Sand Review

Noel Megahey has reviewed the Region 2 release of François Ozon’s Under The Sand. Starring Charlotte Rampling, the film portrays a woman’s coming to terms with the disappearance of her husband. The DVD is a typically good quality release from Artificial Eye.

Marie (Charlotte Rampling) has been married to Jean (Bruno Cremer) for 25 years and their relationship seems comfortable and relaxed, maybe even a little dull. One day, while on holiday on the west coast of France, Jean goes for a swim and disappears. The coastguard is called out, but no trace of a body is found. Slowly, unable to cope with the loss of her husband, Marie’s world begins to crumble. Marie is unwilling to face up to the reality of the situation that Jean is almost certainly dead. The alternatives – the possibility that he may have been bored and just left her or that he may have committed suicide – are too painful for Marie to consider, so she carries on as if nothing has changed, resisting friend’s attempts to interest her in other men.

Under The Sand (Sous Le Sable) is a serious and sombre film on the subject of loss and bereavement. Ozon was inspired by an event he witnessed on the beach as a child and that wanted to make this film as a means of discovering and understanding how a person copes in that kind of situation. In fact, the director filmed the prologue of the film several months before the writing of the second part, in a way, re-creating the event and them placing himself in Marie’s position and trying work out what happens when you are forced to confront a loss in this way? This film takes us inside Marie’s head.

Charlotte Rampling’s performance as Marie is superb. She has a perfect sense of hauteur, dryly indignant at the thought that anyone would imagine that her husband hadn’t been happy in their relationship. Her refusal to accept the pain that life has dealt her and her determination to carry on as if nothing has changed is etched in her face. Little by little, she realises that this façade is impossible to maintain and you can practically see Rampling age visibly on the screen as reality sinks in – her measured gestures and expressions reflecting her inner fear, confusion, anger, bitterness and finally pain, – as she faces the fact that her marriage may not have been as perfect as she wanted to believe. Rampling, now in her fifties, looks strikingly beautiful, but the camera doesn’t flinch from portraying her nakedly (and naked) in an unflattering light. It’s a remarkable and brave performance from this actress, perhaps the performance of her career.

The opening scenes of the film are shot during the summer in 35mm. The rest of the film is shot in 16mm, apparently using natural light, so there is quite a bit of grain visible on the screen. As such there is nothing to fault with Artificial Eye’s 1:85:1 transfer of the film. It may be quite soft and grainy but the film was shot on a low budget, and the sombre and muted tones of the grainy winter scenes also reflect the mood of the film. The sound is, typically for Artificial Eye, Dolby Digital 2.0 – but this is certainly more than adequate as the film relies predominately on dialogue and music. Dvorak, Mahler, Chopin are all suitable mournful, and some snatches of Portishead’s Undenied further emphasise that tone.

The extras for the DVD include a letterboxed transfer of the trailer, an 8 minute anamorphic widescreen interview with the two leads in French with English subtitles, and text interviews with Rampling and Ozon which are very interesting. Rampling might give away a little bit too much here, explaining ambiguities, such as an her interpretation of the final scene, that are left unanswered in the film, but it is clear that she understood and empathised with her role as Marie and contributed greatly to the development of her character.

Ozon is a young director, 34 years old, but on the evidence of Water Drops On Burning Rocks and the maturity shown in his direction of Under The Sand, it seems that he is a director of some talent, able to make serious and mature films with next to no budget. It would certainly be worth keeping an eye on what he does in the future.


Updated: Sep 30, 2001

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Under The Sand Review | The Digital Fix