A conversation with Charlotte Rampling
What was it that made you want to make this film?
It was meeting François Ozon - he wanted to make a film with me for some time. He had an idea: a happy woman, at peace with herself, goes on holiday with her husband to her house in the Landes. They have been together for 25 years and have a close, loving relationship. The husband goes for a swim and disappears. François was fascinated by this story. The intriguing, disturbing type of film that François tends to make lends itself perfectly to this scenario.
Weren't you worried by the fact that François is such a young filmmaker?
No, it amused me. That kind of gamble is very familiar to me, that's the way I live myself - I follow my impulses. The only thing that matters is that I like a story and that I'm inspired by the director, François Ozon is straightforward and approachable. He shoots quickly and there's a kind of easiness around him so he produces something really meaningful without revealing his worries during the shoot. Perhaps it's also something to do with his generation. When I think about the old writer-director cinema, it was more complex and introspective.
Did you follow the various stages of the script as it was written?
Yes. François showed me each part of the story and we discussed it. When he had nearly finished the second part, he was missing a few small links. I told him I thought he should bring in a female writer who would be able to contribute a feminine sensibility and point of view. Then he called in Emmanuele Bernheim and they really worked well together. In the film, you're really inside the head of a woman, and the viewer must be able to follow her journey without being left helpless. Emmanuele brought it all together and gave it more meaning.
The character that you play is, above all, full of energy.
Action and energy are the first forms of self defense. If youre not going to accept bereavement, you have to put up barriers, and action is a great barrier. As long as Marie does not see a corpse, she can still hope, and in her own way, she creates a substitute reality. But little by little, more intrusive signs start to interfere with her dream world.
You've often played characters who are quite disturbing. Marie brings out a different side.
These roles really come when you're ready to play them. I can't express something on film if I don't feel it inside me. My cinematic roles have always been very closely tied to what was going on in my life. When I didn't want to reveal anything about myself, I chose roles that were nothing like me. But Marie really allowed me to blossom. My life is taking a different turn and I'm ready to be more open about it.
A Conversation with François Ozon:
Under the Sand
Where did you get the idea for this story?
I was inspired by something that happened when I was a child. I was nine or ten years old, and I was on holiday with my parents in the Landes [region of France]. Everyday on the beach we would meet a Dutch couple in their sixties. One day, the man went for a swim and never came back. We saw a helicopter flying over the sea and the woman talking to the lifeguards. It was a shock for me and my family nobody wanted to go swimming after that. I've often been haunted by the image of that woman going back to her place all alone, carrying her husband's things. I've always wondered what happened after that.
So this film is a variation on the theme of that memory, with the central question: how is it possible to grieve when there is no body? Throughout the film, I wanted to confront Marie with the combination of an unhappy event and something inexplicable. There were lots of different ways that this story could develop: the husband hasn't died, he's run away. . .
I thought it would be exciting to begin shooting without knowing how the film would end.
Did you try out a number of different versions of what happened next?
I always knew how it would end but I never really knew what Marie would have to go through to reach that point. The only idea I hung on to was that Jean could have been suffering from depression without Marie having noticed, and it is this that puts a question mark over his death and suggests the possibility of suicide. I very quickly understood that Jean, and whatever might be concealed by his disappearance, was not the point of the film, and that what really interested me was the progress of this woman, and how she would live with that absence. I wanted to film somebody who had been subjected to a trauma, and to see what effect that trauma would have later on their daily life. I decided not to give the viewer too much information. I wanted them to think, to ask their own questions, put forward their own hypotheses.
Did you do any research on the grieving process?
I met with a psychoanalyst and bereavement specialist, who knows film very well. He thought the two most beautiful films about bereavement were Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Ordet" and Pedro Almodóvar's "All About My Mother." He confirmed my idea that someone who is in mourning can seem to other people to be close to madness. He also explained that it was in fact quite normal and almost healthy to hear and see the person who has died. This kind of madness heals, and helps Marie put into perspective and accept the disappearance. We also talked about denial, which seemed to him inevitable in Marie's case, since she had no physical proof of his death.
The second part of the film was shot months after the firstwhat affect did this have?
The first part was shot in September and the rest six months later. Due to budget restraints we were forced to cut short the shooting of the second part. We shot very quickly in Super 16the first part had been shot in 35mm. Since the two parts were filmed six months apart, the change of format wasnt a problem because it happened to coincide with a change of season and corresponded to a break in the narrative. The first part, in summer, is a kind of prologue, a brief news item. Afterwards, in winter, the film begins to take off in another direction. It's all very much in the mind then, what happens is less certain: you're in Marie's head, where what is going on is ambiguous, less well-established, more vague, more fragile.
There aren't too many films about women in their fifties.
I wanted to show a woman who was beautiful at fifty, with an active sexual and social life. Marie has lived with a man for 25 years and youre wondering whether she can start her life over again and be with another man. It was important to show that women are vital and seductive at that age, that plenty of things are still possible. In general there are very few roles for women of that age. Everyone told me it would be really difficult to find an actress to play the part of Marie. At one time, I was even thinking of making the character younger but a younger woman would have restricted the dramatic potential of the storyat thirty or forty, it would have seemed less difficult for Marie to make a new life for herself.
What made you think of Charlotte Rampling?
There are few actresses that are as beautiful as Charlotte. I wanted Marie to be a beautiful woman, a woman the viewer could fall in love with. It was really one of the most important ideas in the filmto film the age of the character without any make-up or artifice. That's why Jeanne Lapoirie (Director of Photography) and I decided not to use any filters. I wanted to film the beauty of age. Filming Charlotte Rampling was such fun. I felt that she was so amenable, so ready as an actress to go all the way, and that she had faith in me. I realized that filming her face, her body, her way of moving and talking under normal circumstances was so much like fiction that there was no need to add any sudden new developments or discoveries.
That way of filming can worry an actress. Did you tell her in advance what you'd be doing?
Yes. The first time I met Charlotte, I was so awkward when I told her that I wanted to film her going about her everyday life. I even said I wanted to film her when she was using the vacuum cleaner and she replied caustically that she didn't think we were on the same wavelength. Luckily, I managed to explain myself, and she understood that I just wanted to break through the shell of glamour that is always around her.
Why do you think that she accepted this role?
The idea and the story struck a chord with her. She also had faith in me. She was quite happy to wear a bathing costume on the beachI thought it was important that people see her body. I wanted the viewer to follow her through her way of being, moving, dressing, doing her hair.
How about the characters played by Bruno Cremer and Jacques Nolot?
Cremer is one of the few French actors who reminds me of the big, physical American actors like Burt Lancaster or Robert Mitchum. I remember him in Sautet's "A Simple Story," where he made part of a very beautiful couple with Romy Schneider. He has a kind of simple virility. I wanted to have a well known actor for the part of Jean so you'd remember him, and so that he'd have the same sort of impact on the viewer as Marie.
Jacques Nolot, as Vincent, he has no idea what has happened. From the moment he learns the truth, he's paralyzed because Marie doesn't give him a chance. She has a kind of coldness that he can't break through and Vincent is not a very masculine man. He's a bit delicate and lacking in self confidence, which prevents him from confronting Marie. However, it's precisely because of his demeanor that Marie is attracted to him. She doesn't feel at all threatenedhe's not macho like her husband. The two men complement one another in a way that makes it possible for Marie to live with both of them at the same time.
What contribution did Emmanuele Bernheim make to the story?
She came in at the end. I needed a woman's point of view that would confirm the choices that I had made about Maries character. I wanted to know whether they were plausible, whether I was going the wrong way, particularly with regard to Maries sexuality. She had seen the first part of the film and the imposing figure of Cremer, and she helped me to work out this idea about the complementary figures of Jean and Vincent, to balance the gentleness of one against the imposing presence of the other.
What inspired the filmmaking style for this particular film?
It came from the subject matter. But it's also true that after "Water Drops on Burning Rocks," an extremely formal and stylized film, I wanted to try something a little simpler. From the moment I knew that I wanted people to identify with Marie I realized that directing would have to be discreet, the camera would have to be in just the right place, would have to be able to make itself unobtrusive and be forgotten.
In this film you deal with a subject that is a lot less controversial than those in your previous films.
Maybe, but there's still that mix of fantasy and reality, although it's more subdued. The big difference is the identification with the main charactermy other films have kept them at a much greater distance. Here I really stick very closely to Marie, as opposed to the first part when there is a need to show the life of the couple objectively. I really wanted to be with her, in a state that felt very much like compassion.