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4 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Under the Sand
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by Robert Flaxman

"I guess all that sand can weigh a film down."
3 stars

François Ozon is not all that concerned with plot. He seems to prefer slow, character-driven pieces like Under the Sand, a film which is effectively 90 minutes of Charlotte Rampling being kind of crazy. There's nothing wrong with a character piece, of course, and Rampling is up to the challenge, but the way Ozon blithely disregards so much of the plot acts towards the film's detriment.

Rampling plays Marie, a woman whose husband of 25 years, Jean (Bruno Cremer), disappears at the beach while they are on vacation. He seems to have drowned, but Marie carries on in delusional fashion, discussing him as though he were simply away on business and due home any minute. She even fantasizes about seeing him in their apartment. Despite maintaining that her husband is alive, she nonetheless begins an affair with Vincent (Jacques Nolot).

There's quite a bit to like about Under the Sand. Marie is a deep character, a middle-aged woman longing to feel beautiful again. We see through Ozon's lingering camera that her marriage with Jean has become formulaic and unexciting - what Vincent provides for her is that sense that she still has it. At the same time, Marie is having a hard time holding on to her sanity - she refuses to talk about Jean in any tense but the present, and finally dumps Vincent when he confronts her about holding on too tightly to Jean's memory.

As a character piece, Under the Sand succeeds at most of what it tries to do. That's not the whole of the film, however, and the rest has definite problems. Similarly to Ozon's 2003 disaster Swimming Pool, Under the Sand creates plotlines it has no intention of really resolving. Ozon very quietly hints at a mystery under the surface - is Marie nuts for looking for clues that Jean might be alive, or is it possible that he actually is? - but seems uninterested in actually exploring what might have made for a good additional piece of drama. Instead, Marie is mostly painted as purely delusional - she is delusional, to be sure, but Ozon even teases the idea at the beginning of the film that perhaps Jean did not drown, as we never actually see him go in the water, and then doesn't bother to track it very closely. Aside from that, the film is just slow-moving, a feature of most films that don't have much of a plot to distract.

Under the Sand is a decent character study, but the plot definitely needed fleshing out. The character of Marie could have become more layered if Ozon and his team of writers were seriously interested in asking whether Jean drowned or simply just left, thus manifesting more of a need for her to re-establish self-confidence. Instead, we simply get that re-establishment - it works, but it could have worked better. The film also turns a bit too much on Marie alone - the other characters feel like cardboard cutouts that she interacts with in place of real human beings. In particular, it never quite seems believable that Vincent should be so attracted to Marie, who is quiet, spacey, and hardly so devastatingly attractive as to make those totally forgivable. It's commendable that Ozon is willing to let middle-aged women be sexualized in his films, but he could have tried a little harder to surround Marie with characters who could have better justified that.

Intelligent without being entertaining, Under the Sand is the kind of film that one can respect and yet not want to ever see again. Though Ozon does a good job of examining one character, I wished he had bothered to work on other aspects of the film. Maybe next time, he could include a little more plot.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5301&reviewer=385
originally posted: 10/12/04 22:43:01
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User Comments

10/27/08 jcjs33 masterpiece of yawn, snooze, drag, 10 minutes stretched ot get this over 1 stars
8/20/01 Tom Robertson Good premise, well-acted, mundane 3 stars
8/08/01 Rich A fine movie viewed through a clouded lens 5 stars
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