Hammer of the Gods
A stirring psychological portrait of grief at the Pageant
A middle-aged married couple travels to their vacation home. The husband disappears while at the beach on the second day. The wife alerts the police, the husband is not found, and the wife returns to Paris, where she is a university lecturer.
The woman continues on with normal life, but she begins behaving as if her missing husband were still present in their home. Even when the police turn up evidence that the husband has drowned while swimming, the woman persists in believing that her husband remains present in their seemingly quiet and contented life together.
The mystery of the husband’s disappearance creates a certain suspense, but Under the Sand is not a thriller. Rather, it is a sly and subtle character study in which love, grief, and fragile sanity do quiet battle within the woman’s psyche. What emerges is a fascinating and provocative portrait of an intense and mysterious woman whose personal strengths and weaknesses may be remarkably intertwined.
Charlotte Rampling delivers an Oscar-worthy performance in the central role here, and director Francois Ozon does a skillful job of allowing the story unfold from within the woman’s emotional perspective. Under the Sand never plunges into all-out fantasy, but it does demonstate a keen sense of how much subjectivity there is in our ostensibly objective views of reality.
Veteran Bruno Cremer is intriguingly impassive as the husband, whose image is never entirely absent from the film, and Jacques Nolot (the schoolteacher in Wild Reeds) is very good as the woman’s would-be lover in the aftermath of the husband’s disappearance. The film is in French with English subtitles, but Rampling and Alexandra Stewart, who have an Anglo-French background in common, speak English in their scenes together.