On his fifteenth birthday a family friend tells Francois (Quentin Dubuis) a shattering truth - tying his family's past to the Holocaust - that may enable him to develop his own sense of self. Until then, the secret had lain silent, known only to a few, including his mother Tania (Cecile De France), his father Maxime (Patrick Bruel) and lifelong family friend Louise (Julie Depradieu).
Review by Louise Keller:
There's nothing simplistic about the secret at the centre of this deeply moving drama. Director Claude Miller has adapted Philippe Grimbert's biographical novel with art, grace and compassion. The film's six jumps in time do not confuse, but enhance the growing tension, acting as a metronome for our emotions. Stylistically, too, the use of black and white in a film otherwise shot in colour, makes a sharp impression. This is a potent story about persecution; a story about standing up for one's beliefs; a story about a young boy's insecurities; a love story between two athletes. The journey we take is one of joy, pain and discovery, and one in which the secret is happily secret no more.
It takes a little while to understand the rhythms of this heartfelt film that exposes the rawest of emotions. We engage immediately with the young boy who lives in the shadow of his phantom brother, who excels in all the things he does not. He senses his father's disappointment, nor can he confide in his glamorous swimming champion mother, but finds it is comfortable and comforting to talk to his parents' friend Louise (Julie Depardieu, excellent). Just as Patrick Bruel's Maxime cannot take his eyes off Cécile De France's Tania, nor can we. De France is stunning as the former Molyneux fashion model who is unwillingly swept into a relationship with Maxime. The chemistry between Maxime and Tania is hot; there's an instant connection the moment they meet, albeit at his wedding to Ludivigne Sagnier's Hannah.
Miller establishes the complexity of life for the young François (Valentin Vigourt, aged 7; Quentin Dubuis, aged 14) in which his Jewishness is kept under wraps. But it is as an adult (enigmatically played by Mathieu Amalric, and portrayed in black and white) that we discover how a stuffed toy dog can begin the emotional unravelling, long after borders have been crossed, names changed and hopes raised for a new life. I was not prepared for the climactic emotional devastation, but as all the pieces fall into place, the film crystallises as perfectly as Tania's flawless backward high dive piercing through the clear water with beauty and precision.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This haunting story is turned into a haunting, melancholy film, all the more insistent for being based on real events. Spanning 30 years or more, the story is told in fitful jumps of time to maximise its emotional impact. It's a valid device, since any linear telling would make it seem more banal than it is. The key to the film's success, though, is its ability to maintain our interest for long enough to make the revelations of the secret pay off in cinematic terms. It does at times come close to losing its grip, but is always rescued by superb performances and direction.
Cecile De France is stretched here in a role that requires consummate technique and talent; she is astonishing to look at, but she has to take us past that into the character of a woman whose actions are often disparaged - what do we think of her? Patrick Breul is ideal as the man whose athleticism is more important than his Jewishness and who is torn between two women - just when he is getting married.
The backdrop of the war and the Nazi pursuit of Jews provides the story's setting, but it's as much about human nature as about the Nazi menace. The moral questions and 'what would I do' factor make the film involving and even a tad disturbing.
There are passages where I would prefer a snappier pace of development, but Claude Miller's steady hand intends to draw out all the nuances of the story and the characters, and he uses powerful close ups of his key characters to take us directly into their hearts.
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UN SECRET (M)
CAST: Cecile De France, Patrick Bruel, Lidivine Sagnier, Julie Depardieu, Matheiu Amalric, Nathalie Boutefeu, Yves Verhoeven, Yves Jacques, Orlando Nicoletti, Valentin Vigourt, Quentin Dubuis, Myriam Fuks, Robert Plagnol, Michel Israel
PRODUCER: Yves Marmion
DIRECTOR: Claude Miller
SCRIPT: Claude Miller (novel by Philippe Grimbert)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gerard de Battista
EDITOR: Veronique Lange
MUSIC: Zbigniew Presiner
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 15, 2008