A scene from 'Under the Sand'
Courtesy Photo
*** stars (In French with English subtitles)
95 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, May 25, 2001
Directed by Francois Ozon

Starring Charlotte Rampling, Bruno Cremer, Jacques Nolot, Alexandra Stewart, Pierre Vernier, Andree Tainsy


May require your undivided attention (well, duh! -- it's subtitled) but should retain its emotional impact on the small screen.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 11.27.2001


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After husband's apparent drowning, Rampling walks line between hope, denial in potent 'Under the Sand'

By Rob Blackwelder

Charlotte Rampling puts a dignified face on denial in "Under the Sand," a cinematic meditation on the multitude of emotions that come with the devastating loss of a loved one.

She plays Marie, a 50-something, upper middle-class woman whose comfortable life of familiar rhythms is thrown out of balance when her husband disappears while she's napping at the beach during their regular summer vacation.

Not entirely willing to presume he's drown, and somewhat tormented by the lack of closure, Marie returns to teaching her English Lit class at a Paris university and goes about her life imagining her husband is still alive. At dinner parties she speaks of him as if he stayed at home with a cold that night, which rattles her friends who don't know quite how to respond. When she goes home, she imagines him still there and conjures up daydreams of continued normalcy. When she's making breakfast she pours him coffee. When she's shopping she buys him ties.

It's not that Marie can't live without her husband Jean (played by Bruno Cremer both before his disappearance and in her waking fantasies). In fact, she resumes a relatively normal life and even lets a friend set her up with a man (Jacques Nolot), who becomes her new lover despite his being quite perplexed by Marie's present-tense references to her late spouse.

But there's more to her state of mind than just using her imagination to cope with her grief -- so much so that when the police call from the beach town months later with word that they may have found a body, she erases the message without returning the call.

Writer-director Francois Ozon ("Sitcom," "Water Drops On Burning Rocks") seems to have an understanding beyond his own 35 years of middle age and the harmonies of long-established marital routine. But it's Rampling's wonderful performance, walking a thin line between hope and delusion, that gives the film its fundamental essence.

However, throughout "Under the Sand" I was reminded of Anthony Minghella's sonorous 1991 romance "Truly, Madly, Deeply," in which a younger woman (in her 30s) clings desperately to the ghost of her dead lover. It has everything this film has, plus humor, a supernatural twist and the ability to bring tears to the eyes of anyone who has ever been in love.

This is not a criticism of "Under the Sand" (I've given it three stars, after all). But if this picture strikes your fancy, I guarantee you'll be deeply affected by the other.

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