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aka - Sous Le Sable
France 2001
Directed by
Francois Ozon
93 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Under The Sand

Synopsis: Late middle-aged childless couple Marie (Charlotte Rampling) and Jean (Bruno Cremer) leave Paris to spend their annual holidays in the countryside. On the first day, Jean fails to return from swimming and Marie has to face up to the real likelihood that he has drowned.

Broadly speaking, and fairly clumsily put, there are three principal types of French film that come to our shores - the Francis Veber-style odd couple comedy of The Dinner Game (1999), the costume drama such as Tous Les Matins Du Monde (1991), and depictions of contemporary modern life for comfortably-off bourgeoisie who live in Paris in the old Quarter in tastefully decorated, book-lined apartments, have a house in the country, work in publishing or a university or some branch of les beaux arts and are almost invariably unhappy and looking for some way to change that state of affairs. Under the Sand fits the latter category perfectly. In other words stylistically it follows a well-worn path.

Having said that, the French are undoubted masters in using cinema as a mirror to gaze upon their own condition.  The outcome is usually a kind of melancholy resignation that life is less than what one could imagine it to be but in which one is always well-dressed. Unquestionably this is fatally narcissistic but the French as originators of art cinema have managed to convince us all that it is valid to watch this conclusion being arrived at again and again.

So here we are - again. What is new is of course Charlotte Rampling in the lead.  She achieved a high profile the 1970s playing women on the edge, strong-willed, nervously intelligent and close to self-destruction in films as diverse as Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter (1974) and Woody Allen's Stardust Memories (1980) and then appeared in a string of lesser-seen films through the '90s (including an appearance in the Australian film Hammers Over The Anvil in 1994). More subdued here, but not greatly changed, her performance has won universal praise and she deserves it - the film rests on her performance as a woman learning to cope with her grief.

Ozon is clearly an assured director, not only skilfully working the familiar framework but giving us some striking visual moments that portray Marie's thoughts - for example, when she stands transfixed in a swimming pool or fantasizing on her bed after a date with an admirer. They are marvellous images of the unsaid or what in our lives lies buried under the sand.

Although the film feels almost painfully slow in its early stages and the scenes in which Marie beds a rather desperate admirer should have been shorter if not omitted altogether gradually it becomes more engaging, building to an open-ended finale that is handled with both empathy and finesse. ..




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