Friday October 2, 1998
"See the Sea" and "A Summer Dress" call attention to an important young French filmmaker, Francois Ozon, whose understated, effortless style sets off a mature mastery of tone and mood. The first is only 52 minutes, the second just 15; they add up to a fully satisfying experience.
Whether serious or humorous or anywhere in between, Ozon reveals a sure grasp of how to express psychological drama cinematically. Hitchcock himself might well have been impressed with the seemingly casual yet superbly controlled "See the Sea."
A lovely young woman, Sasha (Sasha Hails), eagerly awaits the arrival of her husband from Paris to their handsome beach house sitting open and isolated on a large and beautiful stretch of land along the sea. We learn from a telephone call to her husband that he will arrive as soon as he can get away.
In the meantime, Sasha, alone with their 10-month-old baby daughter, is a bit bored and lonely. So when a solemn, scruffy young woman, Tatiana (Marina de Van), with a backpack knocks on her door and asks to pitch her tent in her yard for several days Sasha disregards her initial wariness, seeing in the stranger her own carefree time before marriage and motherhood.
Ozon has so swiftly established Sasha's vulnerability in welcoming a stranger that we're at once fearful and curious. Tatiana, who tells Sasha that she stays in the same place only several days, is uncouth, but so self-possessed that she has an immediate and compelling impact upon Sasha, who is soon revealed as a foolish and irresponsible type. Meanwhile, the enigmatic Tatiana is likely to strike you as creepy and disturbing, and when in the privacy of Sasha's bathroom she pulls a singularly gross prank, we really start to worry.
Yet there's no guessing as to what Ozon has in store for us--is it a sexual encounter between the women or something more ominous?--but he certainly knows how to create and build suspense. When he at last arrives at a moment of truth, we realize that while we couldn't have foretold the conclusion precisely, we appreciate in retrospect all the subtle foreshadowing along the way.
"A Summer Dress" is a clever, light-hearted curtain-raiser, also set at the beach, and celebrating the positive effect of the discovery of sexual variety. Frederic Mangenot plays a handsome 18-year-old vaguely annoyed at his bleach-blond boyfriend's campy lip-syncing and dancing--what might the neighbors think?
This propels him to head for the beach for a skinny-dip in the sea and an unexpected adventure that leaves him more secure and accepting of his sexuality in all its aspects. "A Summer Dress" has been made with no less skill and insight than "See the Sea."
See the Sea, 1998. Unrated. A Zeitgeist Films release. Writer-director Francois Ozon. Producers Olivier Delbosc & Marc Missonnier, Fidelite Productions. Co-producer Nicolas Breviere, Local Films. Cinematographer Yorick le Saux. Editor Jeanne Moutard. Music Eric Neveux. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 52 minutes. Sasha Hails as Sasha. Marina de Van as Tatiana.