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Overall Rating

Awesome: 25.93%
Worth A Look: 0%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 3.7%

4 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Under the Sand
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by Greg Muskewitz

"Ozon and Rampling's triumphant return."
5 stars

Writer/director François Ozon knows no normal in the subjects he chooses to explore on celluloid. His prior three features are prided and somewhat rooted into the habit of breaking taboos. His fourth and most mature feature, “Under the Sand” is not a taboo-breaker, but it still pushes the “normal” limit of what people consider beautiful, namely through the affectionate cinematic display of Charlotte Rampling.

55-year-old Rampling plays Marie Drillon, and during a summer-ish vacation with her husband Jean (Bruno Cremer) to the shores of Landes, one day when he goes for a swim, Jean never returns. Frightened, Marie doesn’t know how to react. Fear seems to be the foremost reaction; she searches up and down the beach, questions bystanders, alerts the lifeguards, etc. Hours pass, then days. Soon she’s gone back home, and then months have gone by. She’s dyed her hair and dines with her upper class friends. At first, we’re caught off guard. Is this a flashback or is this a flashforward, and if so, how much either way? The scenes play out, the development suggests this is now the present having advanced from the “incident.” But then Jean is there. She speaks to him, sleeps with him, but there are references to that “incident,” so it must be past where we left off. The audience doesn’t have any reality to grasp on — we realize that Jean is not there and that it is her imagination, but we still don’t know if he’s dead or not. Part of us wants to say yes, but another part, like Marie, won’t give up until she sees a body. One of her friends (Alexandra Stewart) at the university sets her up with a similar-aged bachelor (Jacques Nolot); after all, Marie still has sexual urges (she imagines arms caressing and masturbating her), and the new man seems to be a pleasant balance to her very unbalanced life. (Marie breaks out into uncontrollable while making love to Vincent — “you’re so light!”) But she’s in the process of starting over anew while still keeping a shaded past.

A lot of “Under the Sand” reminded me of the recent film “The Man Who Cried” in the sense that it doesn’t always feel that it’s necessary to verbalize all of the character’s emotions. Images, expressions (like when she views a cadaver — the cadaver) suggestions all suffice and have far more of an effective impression. There was a recent article in “The New York Times” (“In French Cinema, Femmes Over 50 Are Still Fatale,” by Erica Abeel) about how the French still tend to find the older actresses just as sexy as the younger ones, whereas Hollywood finds such an idea preposterous. (I was very happy to find Sabine Azéma mentioned in the article as well as a new favorite since “The Taste of Others,” Anne Alvaro.) Rampling is still a stunning and ravishing beauty, and a very tactile actress. Her age is irrelevant to so much of her action (part of what Ozon was trying to illustrate) and her clarity and composed attitude (she has wonderful articulation in both French and English) is something that so many actresses lack. It would not surprise me to see Rampling’s name bandied about when it comes time for the Oscars even though it’s so far away.

Ozon, a young director (34) certainly has a creative mind. He put an extremely sexually-warped twist on the simple bizarrities of TV shows with “Sitcom” (though somewhat in John Waters’ territory) and then put a homoerotic twist on fairy tales in “Criminal Lovers.” (Waters again tested similar waters in “Desperate Living,” but Ozon was far more distinct in his differences that time around.) Ozon, who is also gay, tends to push the limit with the taboos of that subject matter, but doesn’t stay restricted to it. His last feature was an adaptation of R.W. Fassbinder’s “Water Drops on Burning Rocks,” which although it had a hard homosexual edge, was nothing more than a sexual tease and a stuffy play on film. While “Water” was surely a step-back from the originality and creativity Ozon had previously displayed, “Under the Sand” brings him back to where “Criminal Lovers” left him, but in the process he has gained a lot of maturity in his style. There is a conmutation that Ozon has gone through, from one level as a filmmaker to the next, and that is clearly seen in this. It includes a classier attitude (as opposed to the perversity of his others) and that is exemplified by his crisp, delectable images, his detail to sound (the squeaking of the floor in her flat is exquisite to the ears), etc. (But the cinematography is “Criminal Lovers” was also arguably some of the best around, too. Age is hardly a taboo, but definitely something that is ignored and neglected in cinema, so Ozon does an admirable job with this quasi-resurrection. Just like Rampling isn’t afraid to show off her magnifique body, Ozon isn’t afraid to put it on-screen. It’s an adult film — not just about bereavement, but about life as an adult as well. Don’t expect your kids to beg you to take them to this!

With Pierre Vernier and Andrée Tainsy. Written by Ozon, Emmanuèle Bernheim, Marina de Van and Marcia Romano. In French with English subtitles, and occasional scenes in English.

Final Verdict: A-.

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originally posted: 06/26/01 18:55:28
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User Comments

10/28/08 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
8/09/01 Rich A fine movie viewed through a clouded lens 5 stars
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