The specter of death is something that looms large over François Ozon’s brilliant depiction of grief from 2000, Under The Sand. At this point in his career, the acclaimed French director was steadily making a name for himself before he would make his biggest breakthrough a few years later in the highly revered Swimming Pool. In Under The Sand, Ozon would bring a new appreciation to star Charlotte Rampling, who experienced something of a resurgence after a relatively quiet period the preceding decade. Ozon specifically honed in on what made Rampling such an undeniable screen presence, and her work as a muse for him would continue for years to come. In this César-nominated film, Rampling deftly tackles the intricacies of processing loss and how it can be further complicated by the lack of closure. By avoiding melodrama, Ozon crafts an emotionally raw portrait that stands out as one of the strongest features of the early 2000s. 

Rampling gives her all in the role of Marie Drillon, an English-born college professor who lives in France with her beloved older husband, Jean (Bruno Cremer, Sorcerer). The pair have been happily married for over 25 years, or at least she believes they have been happy. During the summer, the pair go on their typical vacation away from the city to a country house in the Landes near the sea. Their days are filled with laughter and nights are filled with joyous reflection and a fair amount of bad wine. On a trip to the beach, Marie loses herself in a book under the sun while Jean ventures out into the water out of her view. Jean is never seen again, and the truth behind his ultimate fate is never the most interesting facet of the film. Did Jean drown, or possibly kill himself? Is he even dead, or did he just fake his death and disappear? Is there something she could have done to prevent the situation altogether? These questions are what plague Marie. There is no body to grieve, and the uncertainty over Jean’s fate is the true blow. 

This lack of resolution creates immense denial within Marie, who goes about her life as if Jean is just off somewhere even well after the event. Her insistence on referring to her husband in the present tense puts her friends in a deeply uncomfortable position, especially as they try to set her up on a date with Vincent (Jacques Nolot), who has to dance around the likelihood of Jean’s death. Rampling plays this character with a thoughtful consideration, only revealing a bit of the underlying pain in those moments that catch her by surprise, such as when one of her students mentions he was one of the responders who searched for her husband at the beach. Even moments of levity have a sense of melancholy underneath, such as when Marie is with Vincent in bed and bursts into laughter over having someone so light on top of her. She even has conversations with a manifestation of Jean in the quieter moments of the film, processing her feelings through the guise of a discussion. 

The way in which Ozon structures this film is very impactful in its simplicity. Every turn within the story feels earned without resorting to outrageous melodrama. These performers are given strong material to work with, and they bring these characters to life in a manner that is a wonder to behold. Rampling has scarcely been stronger than in the culmination of this film in which she is called about the possibility that Jean’s body has been found. Once again Ozon refuses easy answers as you are left to consider what the film leaves you with through your own impressions. Every element of this knockout feature from the script to the cinematography and the score works in tandem to create something quite powerful. Under The Sand is not a movie you should pass over if you are looking for something with depth. 

Video Quality

Under The Sand comes to Blu-Ray with a new digital AVC encoded 1080p transfer in its original OAR from a strong master. There does not appear to be much of anything in the way of print damage, and overall clarity and detail is mighty impressive. The presentation is nothing short of excellent with a stunning appearance throughout the runtime. This is a film with sparse production design, but there are elements of the interiors that are easily noticeable for the first time thanks to this transfer. The vast expanses of nature and ocean are detailed and hold together nicely. Colors are well saturated in a visually splendid way with a push to the cooler side of the spectrum prevalent for most of the duration. Skin tones are natural and consistent with subtle facial features easily noticeable in closeup. Black levels hold up well with very little in the way of crush. Digital noise does not present as a major issue here. This new presentation will be a treat for fans of the film. Kino Classics has done this film proud with this release. 

Audio Quality

The Blu-Ray disc comes with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track in the original French with optional English subtitles. Environmental sounds are essential in crafting the mood of the film with the vast ocean sounds especially effective in key scenes. These are all rendered well alongside all of the competing sounds. There does not seem to be any majorly noticeable instances of age-related wear and tear. The haunting score sounds great throughout the duration of the film, as it settles you into the mysterious nature of the story. There are never moments where it threatens to overwhelm the dialogue, as the track maintains a good balance so that everything comes through clearly. Kino Classics has given this film the faithfully preserved, lush audio presentation it deserves.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary #1: Director Francois Ozon and co-writer Emmanuèle Bernheim provide a very informative commentary track in French with English subtitles. The two discuss shot composition, character development, motivations, small elements of the production design, shooting locations, the difficulty in shooting intimate scenes and more. 
  • Audio Commentary #2: Film Historian Kat Ellinger provides a less personal analysis of the material in which she discusses the artistry and themes of the film in great detail. This is a very different but equally worthwhile track compared to the other track from the creative team. 
  • Interview with Star Charlotte Rampling: A nine-minute vintage interview with the actress in which she discusses becoming involved with the project, getting emotionally prepared for the role, what she hopes people get from the film and more. 
  • Trailers:  The two-minute trailer for Under The Sand is provided here. There are also trailers provided for Tous les matins du monde and Ponette


Final Thoughts

Under The Sand is an extremely powerful exploration of the grieving process from the great François Ozon. Charlotte Rampling delivers one of the strongest performances of her career thanks to the perfect marriage of material and performer. Kino Classics has provided a Blu-Ray with a top-notch A/V presentation and a nice array of supplemental features. If you are a fan of Ozon or Rampling, you owe it to yourself to add this essential collaboration to your collection. Recommended 

Under The Sand is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Kino Classics has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

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