See the Sea (1997)

“I do the scaring.”

Watching French director Francois Ozon’s film See the Sea (Regarde la Mer) is like watching an accident about to happen–you want to stop the inevitable, but since you’re helpless to do so, instead you find yourself stuck watching every moment–wanting some miracle to intervene to stop a tragedy from occurring.

Young British woman Sasha (Sasha Hails) is on the Ile d’Yeu with her 10 month old baby waiting for her husband to join her on their holiday. In the remote house–very close to the beach–she waits–somewhat impatiently for him to show up. Sasha is bored and also fed up with being the sole caretaker of the baby. The film establishes Sasha’s frustration very quickly–Sasha takes the baby to the beach and then tries to pick up a paperback and read, but the baby demands attention–sighing, Sasha must put her book aside.

One day a young female backpacker named Tatiana (Marina de Van) shows up. Claiming that the campsite is full, Tatiana asks if she can pitch her tent a few feet away from Sasha’s door. There’s something inherently wrong with this request–here’s this entire island with vast empty spaces–and most of them have better views than Sasha’s unattractive house offers. Backpackers are supposed to want to be solitary and independent–hence the backpack, right? Why on earth does Tatiana want to cozy up next to Sasha?

Sasha agrees–reluctantly at first–but soon it’s evident that she sees Tatiana as company, and she’s inviting her unpleasant, unsettling visitor to dinner, fixing her breakfast and expecting her to babysit. Sasha has a very clear signal almost immediately that Tatiana is extremely bizarre, but she still doesn’t hesitate to invite Tatiana into her home, fix meals, and worst of all … leave the baby in her care. Now there are plenty of clues about Tatiana’s motivations–the viewer sees incidents that set off alarms, but Sasha discovers a few things too. Even with plenty of clues, instead of running as fast as she can, Sasha almost embraces her fate. Is she so desperate for half an hour of peace away from her child that she is prepared to run such a risk? Well, yes, apparently, and there are also some rather painful clues that Sasha is somewhat neglectful of her duty. At one point, she leaves the baby in the bath unattended, and in another scene, she leaves the baby asleep a few feet away from the shoreline.

Ozon’s films Swimming Pool and Under the Sand were both mysterious, fascinating films. See the Sea possesses that same fascinating lure, but at the same time, due to its content, it’s rather repulsive, and also rather frustrating to watch. While Ozon’s artistic talent is apparent, nonetheless, See the Sea was not a film I cared for or that I enjoyed watching. Although I do have to admit, the story still haunts me….

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