Francois Ozon, whose short films such as “La petite mort” and “Une robe d’ete” have traveled widely, expands his horizons with the medium-length feature “See the Sea.” Slated for limited theatrical release nationally, this chilling psychological drama about two women isolated on an island off France’s Atlantic coast looks to be confined to the fest circuit by its brief running time. But its suspenseful atmosphere and focused direction should help facilitate the filmmaker’s graduation to features.
Alone with her baby daughter in a cottage on the Ile d’Yeu, Sasha (Sasha Hails), a young Englishwoman, agrees to let dour backpacker Tatiana (Marina de Van) pitch her tent near the house. Sasha’s solitude gets the upper hand, and despite the woman’s sullen disposition, she invites her in for dinner. An odd bond forms between them, underscored by a steadily amplified threat that’s as sexual as it is violent.
Sasha’s willingness to trust her guest seems not entirely plausible, while Tatiana’s attitude toward the other woman seems both disdainful and covetous. But the potent fascination she exerts over Sasha — echoing her youth, prior to family and responsibility — clearly outweighs the wariness caused by her veiled hostility, unnerving questions and oafish manners. With a sense of economy marred only by a moment of coprophiliac excess, the story builds to a shocking denouement in which Sasha’s husband (Paul Raoux) returns from Paris to the aftermath of his wife’s strange encounter.
Ozon manipulates audience expectations with considerable authority, creating a complex psychological minefield from what’s basically a very simple two-hander. The location’s unpopulated beaches, woods and hills serve to hint at both beauty and menace, and the uneasy tone is deftly echoed in the performances of Hails and de Van.