Eye For Film >> Movies >> Hidden Diary (2009) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
This is one of those films whose English title leaves a lot to be desired. Its French working title, La Cuisine, is much more resonant. It comments on the meals that bring characters together, the sensual memories food evokes, the importance of the kitchen as a traditional focal point of women's lives, and the traditions whereby one generation of women influences the next. This is a film which is all about women and their role in the family, but there's nothing cosy or domestic about it. It's a story full of anger and frustration and the search for ways of embracing life in defiance of an agenda set by men.
Men don't seem to play much of a role in the life of our youthful heroine Audrey (Marina Hands). She may be pregnant, but she's not in a relationship with the father of her child - they have a fractious though affectionate friendship - and she's not yet sure whether or not she wants to keep it. She's taking some time out from her demanding job in Toronto (though taking work with her) to visit her parents in France. She feels free to make her own choices but also lost, in need of advice and support. Unfortunately her mother Martine (Catherine Deneuve, superb as always), is hard, distant and unwilling to engage. So she moves into her grandfather's old house. It's there that she find the hidden diary - that of her grandmother, who abandoned the young Martine - and begins to understand what went wrong.
The great strength of this film is that it works on so many levels. In conventional terms it's a family drama and a (slightly belated) coming-of-age tale. In others, though it features nothing supernatural, it's a classic ghost story; and there's a thriller hidden underneath. All of the pieces fit together perfectly so that questions arise in the mind of the viewer exactly when they should, and little shifts of mood have unexpected consequences.
Marie-Josée Croze is the grandmother, almost ornamentally beautiful, perfectly dressed and coiffeured, the ideal Fifties wife. Her understated performance recalls Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven; she has a beautiful home, a loving husband and two children she adores, yet she desperately wants more. Her husband doesn't want her to work. He doesn't approve of her hobbies. He doesn't want her to ride on the bus (people gossip). She feels trapped, slamming her hand against the glass of the kitchen window.
But this isn't just a film about women. It's a film about gender roles and the damage they can potentially do to everybody. Michel Duchaussoy contributes a touching performance as Audrey's father, a man who stayed at home and took care of the house so his wife could work, who devoted himself to his daughter without complaint, but who realises he will never be considered as important to her as her mother. He is the Good Son watching the person he loves lavish attention on the one who seems to care for her least, and trying to remain true to himself and to the love he feels despite it.
A perfectly balanced film that ends with an emotional punch to the stomach, Hidden Diary tackles its subject with subtlety and real insight. However far these women stray from traditional roles, they cannot get away from their history. Can they, finally, find a way to be at peace with the kitchen on their own terms?Reviewed on: 11 Feb 2010