Jan 25, 2009

Why haven't you seen... 6

This is the last Sunday post for Why haven't you seen... It will be moving to Tuesdays, which means a bonus post this coming week.

Regarde La Mer
[See the Sea] (1997)
Dir: Francois Ozon

What’s it all about?

An English woman (Sasha Hails), staying alone with her young baby in the south of France, allows a young woman (Marina De Van) to pitch camp in her garden for a few days. The two women become friendly, but after a few days events take a dark turn.

Why haven’t you seen it?
Short films often don’t get the attention they are due. See the Sea is more problematic than most, first because it is an hour long, meaning that it fits in to neither ‘short’ nor ‘feature’ categories, secondly because it is in French, and from a director who is not playing to the mainstream, and thirdly because its haunting ending may alienate many viewers.

Why should you see it?
For starters because its director, Francois Ozon, is quite possibly the world’s best and most consistent working filmmaker. Ozon has recently released Ricky; his tenth feature in 11 years. f his other nine films the first four are highly recommended, while his five subsequent features are all solid gold classics. See the Sea was made just before Ozon embarked on his first feature, and already it sees this great auteur exploring many of his filmic obsessions and working with a confidence that belies his youth.

Ozon is rightly renowned as a director of actresses, and here two of his early muses, English actress Hails, who appeared in his short A Rose Between Us and Marina DeVan, who would go on to appear in Sitcom, share the screen in what is, essentially a two hander. Even this early in his career Ozon show himself to be capable of drawing extraordinarily natural performances from his actresses, even when some of their actions are unnatural. DeVan particularly impresses, giving an increasingly unnerving performance as the stranger who insinuates her way into Hails’ life.

See the Sea is a peculiarly French type of thriller, the kind that doesn’t give much clue that that is the genre it falls in to until the midpoint of the film, by which time Ozon has built up a couple of complex characters for us to invest in, and only then does it begin to turn the screws, the atmosphere becoming ever more tense up until the final, shocking, minutes of the film.

Ozon has always used sex brilliantly in his films, and here the frisson between Hails and DeVan adds another dimension to the film, and a sexual sequence, in which Hails, walking in the woods, stumbles on a male stranger who seduces her, is one of the most striking moments, both in terms of the film’s story and its visuals.

See the Sea is not an expensive looking film, but unlike many directors, whose early films reveal a refining of the look of their work, Ozon seems to have arrived fully formed. The obsessions are all here; the lingering on bodies, the depiction of characters at the beach, the explicit sex, the implication of a same-sex attraction, all captured in Ozon’s typically beautifully lush compositions.

You have to bear with See the Sea, it takes its time, but when it gets where it is going the pay off is so shocking and so satisfying you’ll be chomping at the bit to see more from this extraordinary filmmaker.

How can you see it?
There are several compilations of Ozon’s short films available. The most comprehensive is the BFI’s UK release, titled Regarde la Mer and Other Short Films, which collects seven films from 1994’s Action Verite [Truth or Dare] to the 2006 TV film Un Lever de Rideau [A Curtain Raiser]. The Region 1 collection A Curtain Raiser and Other Shorts also includes seven films, two of which; Un Rose Entre Nous [A Rose Between Us] and Victor are exclusives. The BFI is highly recommended, but a big fan will want both.

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