A little while ago Under the Sand (2000) was considered for screening at an event on ageing. I had excluded it from my blog and film group list because Charlotte Rampling was 54 years old when Ozon shot this mystery film. The main protagonist, Marie is in her 50s. Her husband disappears after he goes for a swim. The lack of a body leads Marie to hallucinate his presence and her behaviour betrays deep denial. Fear of ageing, grieving, loss of a partner, these are threads that are relevant to ageing but the film does not fall into my restricted category.
However there are in this film two sequences worth studying. As a rule I avoid showing and talking about clips without placing them in a detailed context of the whole film so as not to bias the viewer. In this case the two sequences can stand on their own. One concerns the term haptic as applied to films, the other is a prime example of the stereotypical melodramatic relationship between mother-in-law and wife.
I finally understood the word ‘haptic’ as applied to films. I still do not know how to use it in cinematic terms: haptic frame? haptic turn? Ozon in this film achieves what I would call a master class in the haptic effect. Marie is aroused by the attention of a friend while she is still in denial about the death of her husband and hallucinate. She is lying down in a bright red dress. From above, so that her face appears upside down on the screen, the camera pans slowly from her face to her feet. Two male hands (the husband’s – has a wedding ring) are seen gently removing one shoe, another pair of hands (the potential lover’s ?) appear and remove the other. From then on we are involved in a multitude of haptic shots of hands going up the legs, or caressing the face. At one time we see five hands moving on Marie’s body. Shots of the men’s hands alternate with Marie’s ecstatic face and her own hands touching herself to orgasm. Not here the curtains in the breeze and romantic filtered light on May’s back in The Mother. Neither is it Claire of Innocence touching herself ever so lightly or Inge of Cloud9 soulless lovemaking. Here the cinematography is, if I use the term correctly, haptic. It does convey sexual arousal and release in an amazing beautiful way.
It is also a haptic moment that starts the three minutes sequence between Marie Drillon and her mother-in-law. The two women face each other and are seen in the same frame. The old woman has her hand over Marie’s arm, the other hand caresses Marie’s face. Her craggy face, riddled with wrinkles and folds, expresses care for her daughter-in-law. But Marie gets up and stands by the well-lit window and net curtain. She declares that her husband may have committed suicide. On these words, as in fairy tales, Mrs.Drillon turns from the concerned mother-in-law into the cruel, ugly malevolent witch. Shots/reverse shots of close-ups on the faces of the two women are accompanied by vicious accusations of the mother- in- law from hell. “There is no suicide in the Drillon family”. When Marie says that she just learnt that her husband had been depressed, the reply comes quick and fast: “I knew this… I am his mother” and “I am his wife” says Marie. A vitriolic attack by the mother follows. She blames Marie for her husband’s disappearance and declares that if he left his wife it was because she bored him, that he went to pastures new. By then Marie has moved from the window to stand in front of the portrait of a man. “You were not even capable of raising a family”. This vicious exchange is filmed in shot/reverse shots, contrasting 89 years old Andrée Tainsy’s face ( on a background of dark green and brown) with the younger face of Marie. The revelation by Marie that the body had been discovered in a fishing net is followed by the mother’s reply: “Jean had always like fishing”- “You should be in psychiatric hospital and not a home for the retired” ends this unsavoury exchange between the two women claiming ownership of their man.
I have chosen to write about these two scenes because once again I come across extremely good film-making in the service of what I consider a misogynistic/ageist attitude and I feel that I need to protest.
I must finish up by saying that sanity prevailed and the film shown at the event on ageing was “Fear Eats the Soul” .