A Secret

A Secret


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

This is the true story of an illicit love affair against a background of ethnic cleansing that has become desperately familiar. What Philippe Grimbert’s novel and Claude Miller’s film does best is illustrate the normality of passion during a period of abnormal repression.

At first, Jews in Paris wore their stars of David with pride. No one understood the concept of death camps. Genocide on the scale envisioned by Hitler was beyond belief, as French police followed orders and people with the “wrong” papers started to be arrested and taken away – where to, no one knew. The trade in false IDs flourished. Families plotted their survival.

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Maxime (Patrick Bruel) had no interest in religion and, as far as possible, wiped away the stain of his race. He married the beautiful, naïve, infatuated Hannah (Ludivine Sagnier), while, on their wedding day, was struck by a fierce sexual attraction for the statuesque, elegant Tania (Cecile de France), who would become Hannah’s brother’s wife.

The story is told over a lifetime, switching from the war years to 1955 to 1985, when Maxime, as an old man, wanders aimless through the city, grief stricken after the death of his dog. Francois (Mathieu Amalric), Maxime and Tania’s son, narrates. As a boy (Valentin Vigourt), he is as pale as ivory and hopeless at games. Solitary and shy, an only child who lives with an imaginary brother, he grows up to become a psychiatrist, working with autistic children.

There was a half brother whom Francois never knew. His name was Simon (Orlando Nicoletti) and his athleticism won medals and pleased his father greatly. Tania was a swimming champion, supremely confident on the high board and as sensuous as a seal in the pool. Hannah noticed how Maxime watched her and was fatally hurt by it.

Miller is a filmmaker of exquisite sensitivity. He avoids grand gestures. The war was monumental in its emotional and physical destruction. The film succeeds on many levels, most of all with the heart and mind of the boy witness, the second son of a man who loved too well too often. Above all, it does not judge. Everyone is affected by the actions of others. There is no escape from guilt, no retreat from desire, no end to suffering, only the secret which changed Francois’ life.

Reviewed on: 15 May 2008
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A Secret packshot
Passions simmer as the Nazi trawl for Jews in Paris heats up.

Director: Claude Miller

Writer: Claude Miller, Natalie Carter, based on the novel by Philippe Grimbert

Starring: Cécile De France, Patrick Bruel, Ludivine Sagnier, Julie Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric, Valentin Vigourt, Quentin Dubuis, Orlando Nicoletti, Nathalie Boutefeu, Yves Verhoeven, Yves Jacques, Sam Garbarski

Year: 2007

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


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