under the sand (sous le sable) 2002

director: francois ozon

charlotte rampling, bruno cremer, jacques nolot

Thereís more than a hint of foreboding in the air as Marie and her husband head off on their vacation at the beginning of Francois Ozonís quietly distraught Sous le Sable. Perhaps itís implied in the cool, mulled-down affection the couple have for each other, or perhaps itís in the way he stares longingly at the rolling Atlantic surf at the beach, moments before he heavily treads off for a swim, then disappears. 

Ozon is in no hurry to move his story ahead, and he forces us to savour Marieís moments of panic and despair as she begs the police to help find her husband, searches the waves, then closes up their summer home and heads back to Paris. It helps that he has Charlotte Rampling for a heroine. A great beauty whose screen presence once seemed a bit opaque, sheís turned into a compelling, utterly watchable screen presence. 

Six months later, Marie has gotten on with her life, or so it seems. Her friends politely indulge her inability to talk about her husband in the past tense; no wonder, since he still appears to her, sharing their apartment, calmly discussing her feelings about the man her friends have been trying to set her up with.

Itís a small bit of genius that inspired Ozon to make a ghost story so explicitly about loss and grieving. As a metaphor, it couldnít be more obvious, but Ozon Ė and Rampling, especially Ė go about it with a sureness that only slips once, during a particularly bitter scene between Marie and her casually hostile mother-in-law. 

Thereís little relief in sight as Marie teeters between acceptance and utter denial of reality. Ozon doesnít feel much obligation to allow Marie any closure Ė it isnít that kind of film, and he leaves Marie back at the same beach where the film began, not quite alone, and chasing after another ghost.