Jun 2, 2014
Unless it is cine-magician Jean Cocteau, frog fag filmmakers are not exactly my thing and that especially includes François Ozon (Criminal Lovers, 8 Women), as the man even managed to defile the work of the great Bavarian celluloid queen Rainer Werner Fassbinder with his aesthetically impotent four act chamber piece Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000) aka Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brûlantes. Based on the play Tropfen auf heisse Steine, which Fassbinder wrote when he was only 19-years-old, Water Drops on Burning Rocks—a work that depicts a troubled bizarre ‘love’ triangle between a naïve 20-year-old boy, a psychopathetic 50-year-old businessman, and the 20-year-old boy's beauteous yet terribly dumb blonde girlfriend—is a Frenchized celluloid abortion that pays both aesthetic and melodramatic insult to its Teutonic source writer. Of course, as a man who likes to give credit where credit is due, I cannot totally write-off Ozon as a filmmaker, as he has directed one or two cinematic works that I have come to appreciate, with his 52-minute short See the Sea (1997) aka Regarde la mer being worthy of praise for being a particularly nasty, nihilistic, mean-spirited, perniciously perverse, and uniquely unsettling film that makes one question whether or not the fairy filmmaker has some sort of deep-seated hatred for the fairer sex; or at the very least, there seems to be something innately cruel about a film director that seems to identify with wicked women as many of his films, including his hit Swimming Pool (2003) starring Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier, readily demonstrate. Indeed, by comparison, See the Sea makes Swimming Pool seem like frivolous celluloid child’s play in its daunting depiction of a foreboding relationship between two very different yet strangely complimentary women. Starring auteur/writer/actress Marina de Van (Don’t Look Back, Dark Touch), who disturbed viewers with her disconcerting depiction of a pathological self-mutilator (played by de Van) in her aberrantly allegorical first feature In My Skin (2002) aka Dans ma peau, as one of the creepiest cold bitches in French cinema history, Ozon's medium-length film is a decidedly dark and slow-burning thriller set in a sunny and scenic beachside setting that manages to reconcile the work of Alfred Hitchcock with Michelangelo Antonioni in a film that dares to find beauty in human ugliness and vice versa. Indeed, if there exists a film that can induce a miscarriage in expecting mothers, it is this aesthetically nefarious piece of celluloid gynophobia.
Sasha Noyer (played by Sasha Hails, who is probably best known as a writer on the long-running BBC TV series Casualty) is a young British mother with a 10-month-old baby named Sioffra (played by Hails’ real-life daughter Samantha) and she is currently living all by herself (aside from the baby, of course) in a beachside house owned by her husband Paul (played by Paul Raoux, who also acted as the assistant director of the film) located on an island named Île d'Yeu off the western coast of France. Husband Paul is away on business in Paris and Sasha does not know when to expect him back, so she is rather lonely and has both sex and friendship on her whimsical little mind. When a discernibly antisocial and creepily cold drifter named Tatiana (Marina de Van) shows up at Sasha’s doorstep and states, “I’m looking for a place to crash on the island,” the mother initially says, “Sorry, this isn’t a hotel,” but she eventually gives in due to her undying loneliness and rather extroverted character, which demands constant attention, even if it is of the potentially dangerous sort. While Tatiana initially camps in the yard and promises to keep to herself, Sasha is just too social and extroverted to leave the dirty drifter in the lurch, so she offers her dinner and some fancy wine. While eating, Tatiana, who gorges on her food like a rabid pig in heat, reveals that she used to work as a nanny, but she has trouble staying in the same place for too long and prefers to travel alone. When Sasha asks Tatiana if she gets scared while traveling alone, the deranged drifter proudly replies that she is the one that does “the scaring.” Of course, Sasha is too hopelessly naive to get the hint that the stranger might be of a somewhat unsavory and even unhinged character. That night, Sasha, who clearly has an untamable sex drive, masturbates by grinding her naughty bits on a chair, as if she is a little girl who has just discovered her sexuality. The next day, Tatiana takes a bath while smoking a cigarette and rubbing her genitals with a soap bar in a seemingly uncomfortable fashion. After her rather grotesque bath, Tatiana takes Sasha’s toothbrush and rubs it in her feces (which she leaves in the toilet for the young mother to find). Indeed, at this point of See the Sea, it is quite apparent that the drifter is a sinister little psychopath with a scat fetish.
When Sasha, the baby, and Tatiana go to the beach, the latter notices a couple of homos having sex in the woods nearby, which seems to turn on the young mother. After Tatiana opts to leave after complaining of being bored by the sun and surf, negligent mother Sasha decides to leave baby Sioffra all by her lonesome on the beach so she can get in on some of the hot homo action going on in the woods. Indeed, Sasha somehow manages to get a young cocksucker to perform cunnilingus on her in a rather aggressive fashion. Meanwhile, Tatiana plays in an ancient and ruined graveyard where she admires the tombstone of a little boy and even reaches inside a broken crypt to see if she can touch a corpse, thereupon demonstrating her morbid character. That night, Tatiana asks Sasha about her birthing experience in what is easily the most awkward part of this unsettling little short. After Sasha describes how giving birth was “great” and how she opted against an epidermal because, “It was my first. I wanted to really experience the pain…know how it felt,” Tatiana then asks the young mother if her vagina ever tore and describes how, “Some [women] shit out the pussy after” giving birth. When Sasha kindly tells Tatiana to stop asking questions about birth as it might prevent her from ever wanting to have a baby of her own, the drifter states in a matter-of-fact fashion, “I already had one.” When Sasha asks where the baby is, Tatiana says, “It is dead.” After Sasha apologizes for asking, her curious guest sickly replies, “That’s okay. I had it aborted.” Luckily for Sasha, a phone call from her husband Paul breaks the tension of the absurdly awkward conversation. Indeed, Paul is supposed to arrive at the house the next morning at 10am and Sasha invites Tatiana to stay, as she is convinced her husband will have no problem with her company, but the deranged drifter has much different plans in mind. That night, a tear trickles down Tatiana's face as she stares at Sasha and baby Sioffra while they are sleeping together in bed. Tatiana then proceeds to strip off all her clothes, and assumedly joins the mother and baby daughter in bed. The next day, Paul arrives, but he cannot find Sasha or the baby. Eventually, Paul notices a red tent in his yard, which he opens up, only to find his wife’s Sasha’s naked and somewhat bloody corpse. A rather gruesome scenario, the unclad dead body is tied up with bondage and has a plastic bag wrapped around its head. Meanwhile, Tatiana is on a ship heading to Ireland (the boat has an Irish flag). Of course, Tatiana is carrying baby Sioffra, who is naturally crying, in her arms.
While Tatiana is easily one of the most innately despicable and disgusting female characters in film history, protagonist Sasha is not exactly deserving of the ‘mother of the year’ award, as a routinely negligent first-time mommy who leaves her baby by itself on a beach so she can have sex with a strange sodomite who probably has a STD or two (she also leaves the baby unintended in a bathtub), not to mention the fact that she allows her baby to be watched by a blatantly deranged psycho bitch that looks like a feral hobo who barely survived a Muslim gang rape. Indeed, a genuinely shocking and stomach-turning work that makes an early Roman Polanski shocker like Repulsion (1965) seem like a softcore bourgeois melodrama by comparison in terms of its nihilistic depiction of feminine ferociousness, See the Sea is an ominous celluloid assault against the viewer that may be predictable in its nuanced utilization of suspense, yet still manages to chill the viewer in the end. Undoubtedly, the two main characters of the film represent two archetypical, albeit unflattering, extremes of femininity, with Sasha being a well meaning, if not scatterbrained and negligent, mother who genuinely loves and adores her child (even if she is not fit to raise her), and Tatiana being a cold, calculating, and callous cunt of the deleteriously jealous sort who does not even have a drop of the nurturing qualities that one needs to be a mother, hence why she aborted her own child. Indeed, forget Polanski's Rosemary’s Baby (1968), See the Sea has to be the most macabre maternal horror movie ever made, as a work that not only features a mother being murdered and her baby stolen, but also features spine-tingling Sapphic undertones, as if lesbians are the most sinister and sadistic of women, yet at the same time, it almost seems as if the director felt the mother deserved to die due to her ultimately fatal naivete. For a French film, See the Sea is also deceptively simple, as one can more or less tell where the film will conclude right from the get go, yet this does not detract from the work’s pathologically perverse potency, as a nearly immaculately assembled sunny horror story that seems to have been directed by a morally dubious man with an acute hatred for women and maternity, for one can only speculate what would inspire someone to make such a majorly malevolent little movie. Undoubtedly, in its scenic Hitchcockian sexual sadism and unflattering depiction of depraved cocksuckers cruising a beach, See the Sea seems to have had a major thematic and aesthetic influence on the French thriller Stranger by the Lake (2013) aka L'inconnu du lac, thus demonstrating auteur François Ozon’s imperative influence on contemporary French cinema. A wickedly whacked reworking of Wuthering Heights meets Knife in the Water (indeed, yet another Polanski reference!) with a formulaic, if not fiercely foreboding, structure that dares to mix serenity with scatology, Ozon’s sicko short is like the celluloid equivalent of contracting a painful STD on vacation, as a film that will never leave your mind, no matter how much you wish it would. Indeed, if you're looking for a strong antidote to the hobo feminism of Agnès Varda's Vagabond (1985) aka Sans toit ni loi, See the Sea is certainly worth your time and anguish.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:17 AM
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