Thanks for reviving the thread, amarinth.
I didn’t get a chance to revisit the film so I’m going off of memory, here, but I remember enjoying the film quite a bit (until the end; see below). I liked how highly stylized it was, with the melodramatic trappings and the vibrant costuming (as well as the cinematic in-jokes). I liked, generally speaking, the energy and the stagings of the songs (most of which I still can picture now). Ludivine Sagnier’s was goofy fun, Firmine Richard’s was genuinely moving, and Emmanuelle Beart’s was bursting with sexual tension. The songs themselves struck me as mostly trifles (and I didn’t know they were period songs at the time), but lyrical poetry often translates quite poorly in these cases, so I didn’t make too big a deal of them. There wasn’t anything particularly “deep” about the interiority each song provided the characters, but I liked that each woman got a showpiece and I liked that the styles of songs varied in interesting ways. I also admit to being a bit of a sucker to all-female ensemble films, since they’re so rare (especially compared to all-male ensemble flicks) that I just revelled in not only the dynamics, but the truly impressive breadth of talent (and beauty) involved.
But the ending struck me as so incredibly misogynist as to leave an incredibly foul taste in my mouth. After the husband/father shoots himself for real,we’re regaled with a closing number depicting how women are the source of all disaster for men, as if this provided a justification for his final act. The campy in-fighting and catty arguments take an immediate sour note once Ozon starts painting the entire gender with an equally unflattering brush. And this was a guy, after all, who not only carried on with mistresses, but even had a sexual relation with one of his daughters, IIRCAnd he’s the victim? Yuck. What slowly develops from a drawing room mystery to a soapish satire with buried emotions revealed suddenly takes an ugly turn into an anti-female screed. Is that what the final thesis of the film is? If it wasn’t, he wouldn’t end the story with a song sung in unison emphasizing this sentiment. For a film to be so generous with its female talent, only to undermine them with such a hateful lasting message struck me as a creative decision as gratuitous and insulting (to the audience as well as its subjects) as any of the “feminist” pandering that comes out of Hollywood.
Ozon has a bit of a critical reputation, but his latest films (this, Swimming Pool, 5x2) all reek of gimmickry, pretending to be about something but never really taking much of a stand. He benefits mostly from the naunces his talented casts provide, and Under the Sand is the only film of his I’ve yet seen that I’d ever consider revisiting for enjoyment’s sake–though I might consider doing so with 8F since I now know to stop the film 5 minutes early.
Since we’re talking about musicals, I should also mention that this is a kind of musical that you never see in the states–one where the cast members very clearly have varied (and often limited) musical talent or experience. There’s something very appealling in the candor and fearlessness of such an approach, but it can be a decidedly mixed bag for the audience. The only recent American example I can think of similar to this was Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You, but such a thing is much more common in Europe. Jeanne and the Perfect Guy (which uses the lovely Viriginie Ledoyen better than Ozon does) and *The Other Side of the Bed* are just a few other recent examples of normal people (some who can’t sing or dance better than I) being game enough to give the genre a shot. They’re not great films by any means (though they’re more topical in their subject matter and more generous in their sexual frankness), but I still enjoy them because they’re not slick or glitzy the way most modern American musical efforts are.