In her memoir about the loss of loved ones, Barbara Lazear Ascher writes: "Grief eats reason for breakfast." There is no rhyme to it either. It can be a long journey filled with guilt and remorse especially if the loss of a loved one comes in such a way that there is no closure and no goodbye. Under the Sand offers a compelling anatomy of grief as a solo journey through sorrow.
Marie (Charlotte Rampling) and Jean (Bruno Cremer) have been married for 25 years. At their country place outside Paris, they go to the beach. Marie falls asleep in the sand while Jean goes for a swim. When she wakes up, he has disappeared. The authorities comb the area but are unable to find him.
For many of us, grieving is the first experience since childhood of being totally out of control. This experience of loss becomes a return ticket to the helplessness we felt as kids. Marie desperately tries to resume her life as a professor. She meets with her friend Amanda (Alexandra Stewart). Unable to accept the harsh reality that Jean is not going to return, she keeps him alive in her imagination, even speaking to him in their apartment.
At a dinner party hosted by Amanda, Marie speaks of her husband as if he were still alive and with her. Eventually she begins seeing Vincent (Jacques Nolot) who is very tender towards her. But the ghost of Jean is too much for him to handle.
Under the Sand, directed by François Ozon, convincingly portrays Marie's long march through grief. Charlotte Rampling gives the most compelling performance of her long career as a middle-aged woman unhinged by loss. Her agonizing feelings of guilt for being asleep when her husband disappeared are intensified by his cruel mother who insists that her son ran away to escape an unhappy marriage. More than any other recent film on the subject, Under the Sand reveals the ways in which grief forces individuals to live in a limbo between the past and the future.