Under the Sand (2000)

A woman’s husband disappears in Ozon’s psychological drama about grief and denial, starring Charlotte Rampling in one of her finest performances.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,330

Dir. Francois Ozon
2000 | France | Drama/Mystery | 96 mins | 1.85:1 | French & English
Not rated – likely to be M18 for sexuality and some nudity

Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Bruno Cremer, Jacques Nolot
Plot: Marie and Jean have been happily married for years and are on holiday in Western France. As is their custom, they spend their holiday in a cottage on the coast. When her husband goes swimming and, after a brief afternoon nap, Marie wakes up, she finds that her husband has not returned.
Awards: Official Selection (Toronto)
International Sales: Celluloid Dreams

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Grief; Denial; Delusion
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Charlotte Rampling seems to have gotten finer with age, and in Under the Sand, an early work by Francois Ozon, she delivers one of her finest performances as Marie, an English Literature professor who goes on a short vacation with her husband. 

Her life changes when her husband disappears after going for a swim at the local beach. Ozon makes the disappearance vague, even though it is highly likely that her husband has died.  But is it an accidental drowning or a planned suicide? 

No one is sure, least of all Marie, who becomes more delusional as the film carries on.  There could have been the temptation to go into histrionics, but Rampling’s restrained performance very much gives Ozon’s film a sense of quiet mystery and melancholy. 

“I am his wife, and I’m telling you, this is not him.”

Her character sees ‘visions’ of her husband, but these aren’t incredulous—they are very much believable in the psychological world that Ozon has developed for Marie. 

As a tale about grief and denial, Under the Sand isn’t the final cinematic word on the subject matter, but it is still an effective film that asks questions about how guilt and regret affect mental states. 

In a scene that is a nod to Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), Marie pleasures herself, imagining many strange hands caressing her body; yet it is these imaginary hands that are forcing her down, rendering her immobile in a kind of psycho-physical manifestation of the inability to move on. 

Under the Sand also contains one of the cruellest final shots in contemporary French cinema—there’s simply no escape from a tormented mind. 

Grade: A-



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