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Under the Sand (Francois Ozon) 2001 

I caught up with Francois Ozonís Under the Sand on DVD, and I notice that the cover of the disc has a quote from A.O. Scott in the New York Times that calls the film ďreminiscent of Hitchcock.Ē Surely, this is misleading and itís probably pulled out of context. The film is much closer to a combination of Antonioniís LíAvventura and Polanskiís Repulsion, both far better films than this admittedly fine work, than anything Hitchcock has churned out. Under the Sand stars Charlotte Rampling in a stunningly bare, terrifically nuanced performance as Marie, a woman whose husband Jean simply vanishes one day while they are on a beach. Like Antonioniís film, there is no explanation given for his disappearance, but that ambiguity places the audience in the same boat as Marie. 

The film opens, like LíAvventura, with scenes that are so obviously mundane that it becomes clear that any sort of disturbance to enter this world would be earth shaking. When Jean disappears, the effect is as much one of relief for the audience (finally something has happened!) as it is one of sympathy for Marie. The film is delicate however, and the arrival of drama is not nearly as dramatic as one might expect. Ozonís work is tremendously understated here, and heís far more interested in the mindset of his lead than solving the mystery heís created. The way that she tenuously slides between denying her husbandís disappearance and defying her marital vows endows her characters with a rare complexity. 

Marie has an active fantasy life, and the imaginings of the specter of her husband seem to be just the start of her mindís wandering. Throughout the film, it feels as if sheís trapped by the disappearance, and even though she leaves her home, sheís never any more liberated than Deneuve was in Repulsion. The film also shares with Repulsion a general lack of willingness to directly address its true subject matter. Itís only hinted that the boredom at the filmís start might have been the cause for Jeanís suicide/disappearance, but it seems the most convincing argument offered. Marieís uncanny ability to create an idealized version of her mate in his absence suggests she might have been making more of their relationship than he all along. The filmís provocative ending places takes us no farther to a concrete answer than anything else in the film, but expecting to find definitive answers while mucking about in the mind of this fascinating woman is surely folly. 



Jeremy Heilman