“See the Sea” (1997)

by A.J. Hakari

It’s Blog-a-Thon time again! Throughout November (and December), I’ll be reviewing four movies suggested to me by four fellow film freaks: Marcey Papandrea (of SuperMarcey.com), Bede Jermyn (also of SuperMarcey.com), Sam Inglis (of 24 Frames Per Second), and Mike Ewins (of E-Film Blog). The theme of the month(s) is forgotten ’90s films, so check my pals’ respective sites to read their takes on what I picked for them.

Next up is Sam’s selection, See the Sea, and here’s why he chose it for me:

“A.J. is a bitch to pick movies for. He’s seen EVERYTHING, or certainly he’s well on his way; every day, he seems to announce on Twitter that he’s seen some other obscure thing. This being the case, sending only a very short list of films for him to pick from for this Blog-a-Thon was a gamble, and I did half expect him to throw them back at me while cackling, ‘Seen all those, have you nothing more original?’ Happily, that wasn’t quite what happened, and even more happily, the one he hadn’t seen is something I love to press on people.

Francois Ozon is by far my favorite working filmmaker. I’ve seen every one of his features and haven’t given any of them lower than a 4/5. He’s now a reasonably well-known cult name, off the back of films like 5×2, 8 Women, and Swimming Pool (and its frequent airings of Ludivine Sagnier’s breasts), but this film, shot just before his feature debut, Sitcom, remains an underseen curio. At 51 minutes, See the Sea is neither short nor feature, but whatever it is, this taut little thriller about an obsessive relationship between a young mother and a hitcher camping in her garden intrigues from the off and only tightens its vice-like grip up until the shocking ending. I really hope A.J. likes it.”

And now…the review…

"See the Sea" poster

“Unexpected” is what I’d use to describe director Francois Ozon’s work. The man never neglects a curveball, be it the dark subject matter of his otherwise frothy musical 8 Women or showing a relationship in reverse with 5×2. 1997’s See the Sea runs less than one hour, but it packs in that conservative length its share of beard-strokingly intriguing plot developments. The flurry of ambiguous turns Ozon takes can be daunting to sift through, but See the Sea is well worth a look-see, for how much it leaves you wanting to delve more into its mysteries.

Sasha (Sasha Hails) is a little lonely. She’s set up at a modest abode near a gorgeous beach, but with her husband currently away for work, the days spent with their ten-month-old daughter tend to drag on. Thus, while not precisely jumping at the chance to let moody vagabond Tatiana (Marina De Van) pitch a tent in her yard, Sasha appreciates the company and invites her to do so anyway. Tatiana’s presence turns out to have quite the effect on Sasha, inspired by the girl’s tales of her experiences to explore her own inhibitions and vent all those years of unfulfilled dreams. But she does so unaware of Tatiana’s true colors, to which she remains oblivious even as the drifter slowly insinuates herself into her domestic life.

Ozon does such a good job of hiding what See the Sea eventually becomes, I hesitate to allude that it even has twists. From the start, there’s a feeling that something isn’t right, and playing upon that unease is how Ozon hooks the audience. But it isn’t enough that he does a clever job of disguising his final few scenes, so he intregrates his sleight-of-hand into deceptively simple doses throughout the picture. You don’t know if See the Sea is going to end up as a thriller, a forbidden romance, or what have you, just that the film’s events pique your curiosity and that where they take you isn’t going to be very pleasant territory. What matters is that there’s a dozen different ways to read this story, and Ozon imparts with plenty of material over which to mull.

What I can say about See the Sea is that its pair of leads comprise two sides of the same coin, and the actresses in these roles compliment each other very well. Hails is quite good at playing a repressed housewife without burdening herself with the tropes and stereotypes that usually accompany that archetype. Sasha’s longing is sorrowful, and scenes in which she takes charge of her sexuality (which include an impromptu quickie in the forest with a total stranger) aren’t played for exploitation in the slightest. Then there’s De Van, who does a solid job just playing a tough girl who really has seen it all, but where her performance really shines is in keeping the straightest of faces even as Tatiana’s motives creep further to the surface.

I’m not sure why Ozon stopped See the Sea at the 51-minute mark. It’s enough for him to get the job done, but it was a little disheartening to see him cut and run just when the plot’s most challenging stages were upon him. Still, See the Sea is a taut little beast, both a sharp piece of work on its own and a fine example of how Ozon can bamboozle you and make you like it.