Toujours l’amour

Charlotte Rampling returns in a chilling masterpiece of (im)mortal love.

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Sharing a life in love is the ideal of matrimony. Marie and Jean Drillon (Charlotte Rampling and Bruno Cremer) seem to enjoy sharing all of the little, everyday things — a cigarette, a bottle of bad wine, a bed — the grains of sand that gather into the major measure of time together, the flesh of marriage. But, even after 25 years, the one thing they can’t share is death.

Director François Ozon once again proves himself to be a cinematic fabulist, like director Eric Rohmer (known for his series of four “Tales and Proverbs” completed with 1998’s Autumn Tale). But Ozon’s fables don’t wear their intellectualism on their sleeves and are more or less obscured by a grimmer, bleeding darkness that recalls Rohmer’s peer, Claude Chabrol (La Cérémonie), France’s Hitchcock.

The master of suspense himself influenced them all (Rohmer and Chabrol co-wrote a book on Hitchcock). But in Under the Sand, Ozon simplifies the Vertigo-like symbolic palette of his last film, Water Drops on Burning Rocks (1999). Blood-red is life — blue, watery death. He brings the fantastic and the uncanny into the mundane, the cerebral — not the visceral — aspect of Hitchcock’s suspense.

But Rampling’s Marie isn’t the cool or immature Hitchcock blonde. Ozon allows his fiftysomething heroine to be frankly and maturely sexual — a portrayal that seems rare in even European cinema.

Marie’s tragic passion is the hub this film turns on, sized to fit a relatively ordinary woman who loses an extraordinary love and finds herself beyond the limits of reality in an attempt to recover it. As a fable, Under the Sand’s moral is that when love is buried alive (haunting — undead — its surviving half as a ghost composed of white-knuckled grief), loss and insanity may become strange bedfellows.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

Visit the official Under the Sand Web site at www.francois-ozon.com.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at letters@metrotimes.com.

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