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Sous le Sable (Under the Sand) | Review

Digging a Grave

Rampling offers a performance of a lifetime.

Sous le Sable is based on the recollection of director Francois Ozon’s childhood memory. He had wondered about what the affects that this type of incident could have on a person-the sense of never knowing what really happened to a loved one. The premise is pretty much divulged once you read the title of this film, so the introduction time is spent on illustrating the loving relationship between Jean and Marie. Once the disappearance occurs, the questions arise and our protagonist becomes totally paralyzed. The character turns into a caged animal- with here inability to deal with this enormous sense of loss and the troubles she has with the memory of her husband (haunting her and also comforting her). The jarring performance of Charlotte Rampling (Stardust Memories) merits all of this film’s credit and to say that her performance is great- would be an understatement. She demonstrates the multitude of psychological states and frame of mind of this character that is trying to hold it together- but at the same time is showing all the signs of going bezerk. Rampling totally immerses herself into the role, giving texture to the character and layering her with the cold gazes, authentic-frightening half-smiles and strong-resilient luminosity of a desperate, disillusioned-aged woman.

Under the Sand is not a film about overcoming tragedy or about coming out of the dark. The film is about having to cope and deal with the sense of loss. How does one deal with the banalities of everyday life, how do you deal with paying the bills or how does one enjoy a laugh among friends? With the character’s inability to move on with her life, and her ability to totally immerse herself in a state of denial, the viewer is presented with a completely heart-wrenching character portrayal. Ozon does not leave any breathing room for our protagonist (as he continually gives the character a mental tug-of-war especially visible in the tie-purchasing scene and the sequence where she identifies the found body) or the viewer (with the composition and framing of the shots). I love how Ozon further complicates matters for Marie-with the plot asking for the inclusion of a romantic interlude (she originally sees it as an affair -as cheating on her husband). Under the Sand is not some overdone melodrama, but rather a simple film that resonates with a compelling performance from Rampling in a character that has no closure and is further compounded by the directors deliberate omission to resolve any issues within the run time of his oeuvre. This film will touch you.

Viewed in Original French langauge.

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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