See the Sea

by

Writer-director Fran├žois Ozon has devised a nasty little horror film which seems both familiar and new. A normal person, a normal setting, a mysterious stranger, then turmoil and worse -- shades of Polanski, Chabrol and Pinter hang over his tale while his control of its telling seems original and fresh.

A young Englishwoman, Sasha (Sasha Hails) is vacationing on the Ile d'Yeu, just off France. Her husband, who is French, is temporarily away on business, though they talk on the phone every day. She has her infant daughter to keep her company and long stretches of virginal sand to lounge on while being toasted by an obliging sun. Clean and uncaring waters lap serenely at the shoreline.

One day, another young woman appears, garbed in the layered-clothing, backpack-totting guise of the international hippie transient, and asks Sasha if she can pitch her tent in her yard for a few days. Sasha, at this point bored by the predictability of the island's Edenic offerings and with no one except a baby to talk to, is hesitant but agrees.

Sasha is intrigued by her guest, by her freedom and her odd, uncommunicative and sullen demeanor. Her freedom, it turns out, is rooted in a horrifying indifference, her dour look the mask of a sociopath in repose. We know something horrible is going to happen, but we're never quite sure what, and it's to Ozon's credit that despite all our anticipation it arrives with a shock. This is the return of the repressed, in spades, as the bourgeois housewife's world is split open by a creature which could have emerged from her own id.

Since the film runs only 52 minutes -- a wonderful show of restraint on the part of its creator, who could have kept us dangling past the point of caring -- it's being coupled at its DFT showing with the same director's 15-minute short, A Summer Dress. This one is as charming as Sea is unsettling, a low-keyed comic interlude about a bisexual young man who almost accidentally cheats on his male lover. It's a well-executed sketch, the sort of thing an impressive new talent might put together as a calling card.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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