WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Under the Sand opens with an eerie and appropriate homage to George Sluizer's The Vanishing. Jean Drillon (Bruno Cremer) and his wife Marie (Charlotte Rampling) are traveling across the French countryside on their way to their vacation home. They stop at a gas station for a brief rest and coffee. They exchange a few words and a meaningful silence. And then they set off toward their beach destination, where Jean will ultimately disappear without a trace. But whereas The Vanishing is a story about loss and a nightmarish quest for knowledge, Under the Sand is a more tender story about a woman's tragic denial of her loss.
The Drillons have been married for 25 years, and their relationship has settled into comfortable, passionless familiarity. Their time together, at the start of the film, is characterized by long happy silences and relaxed gestures. In the midst of one of these sequences, Jean simply vanishes, leaving Marie disoriented and lost as her world somersaults into confusion. She handles the horror by withdrawing into severe denial, assuring her friends—with a smile that's just slightly cracking at its edge—that Jean is indeed alive and well, that the disappearance never occurred.
Even so, Jean's fate invades every aspect of the movie, and while we observe Marie's quiet hysterics, we're consumed right along with her by the emptiness of his exit. Inevitably, the truth begins to creep up on poor Marie, as her friends become more bold in confronting her and her mind starts playing tricks on her. Rampling portrays this psychological turmoil flawlessly, in an amazingly effective performance that's quite moving. A screen veteran, Rampling makes a tremendous comeback in this role, delivering a many-faceted performance that earned her a Best Actress nomination at the European Film Awards.
The last shot of Under the Sand is brilliant in its symbolic imagery and composition, and yet I couldn't help but feel some disappointment as I watched it. Just as the film seems ready to end on a note of healing and hope, it falls back into despair. I've never been one to reject a downbeat ending, but this one seemed a cheap turnabout.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Winstar presents Under the Sand in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image is generally sharp but exhibits much digital artifacting and pixelation. I also noticed severe instances of halo effect. Colors are washed out, perhaps intentionally so, enhancing the bleakness of the story. The transfer has a flat feeling, lacking dimensionality. Having registered those complaints, though, this DVD is quite watchable, with a pleasing amount of detail reaching into the backgrounds.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc offers two audio options: French stereo and French 5.1. Interestingly, the characters sometimes switch from French to English—occasionally in the same scene—lending a unique believability to their casual conversations. Dialog comes across cleanly in both tracks, although the 5.1 track offers slightly more envelopment. Under the Sand doesn't provide a particularly dynamic audio experience, but its sound has at least been rendered accurately.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The DVD holds two major supplemental items. Chief among them is a commentary from director François Ozon. (He's joined by cowriter Emmanuelle Bernheim, whose name doesn't appear on the disc's special features menu or on the case, strangely enough.) This commentary is in the director's native French, but you can view it with optional English subtitles. Ozon provides an interesting discussion, talking about various aspects of the production, including discarded scenes, settings, and even motivations behind characters. Often, the subtitles appear in advance of Ozon's voice, simply because he speaks so quickly. The subtitles sometimes disappear off the screen too rapidly, making this commentary more of a chore than I wanted it to be.
Also included is an 8-minute interview with Charlotte Rampling, who discusses her love of the project, her admiration of the director, and her return to film in general.
Rounding out the disc's special features are the theatrical trailer (which almost completely misrepresents the film!) and filmographies of Rampling, Cremer, Jacques Nolot, and Ozon.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Under the Sand's tragic tale of denial is held together expertly by a moving performance from Charlotte Rampling. Although the film's center provides a bit of a lull, and the ending seems unnecessarily bleak, this is a fine film worthy of repeat viewings.