Secret Defense

Secret Defense


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

When faced with a murder mystery, would you be clever and cool like they are in the movies? Sylvie (Sandrine Bonnaire) is a serious woman. She lives alone, works too hard, can't handle relationships and doesn't speak to her mother - or rather does, when she has to, but it's not something she enjoys. She's a cancer research scientist, which means she wears a white coat and messes with test tubes. She never smiles, never has fun and when a persistant ex-boyfriend gives her flowers or asks her out, she doesn't exactly kick him in the crotch but finds ways of avoiding the "oui" word.

Into this super-controlled world bursts her younger brother (Gregoire Colin), claiming he has proof that their father's business partner, a man called Walser (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), murdered him five years ago. The brother is hot-blooded, irrational and angry. He's also got a gun. He says he's going to kill Walser. Sylvie, as you would expect, tells him to calm down and be sensible. He doesn't and isn't. She knows he means it and she knows he'll botch it up and so takes a decision that will change her life forever. She'll do it herself. She'll kill Walser.

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Jacques Rivette is not the kind of director who would contemplate making a thriller in the Hitchcockian tradition. He is interested in human response. Sylvie is not clever and cool now. She is in a state of shock, which explains why Rivette follows her on the train journey, watching her, forcing the audience to experience what she is experiencing (does it really take that long?), as she goes out to the chateau in the country where Walser is staying with his pretty secretary.

Things do not go well. This is true to life. The best laid plans, etc... The film is almost three hours long. At times, you feel every breath in your throat, every blink of your eye. Rivette's dedication to the reality of the moment, always from Sylvie's viewpoint, is uncompromising. There are twists to the story that appear more as accidents than plot structured surprises.

Bonnaire has an intensity that is powerful and compelling. Radziwilowicz, who worked with Wajda in Poland, has an intimacy that belies his menacing presence. It is not an easy film to watch, ending like a drawing room melodrama, and yet remains in your thoughts as something unexpected and unique.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Secret Defense packshot
A biologist has to explore her background after their brother claims her father's death was not accidental.
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Director: Jacques Rivette

Writer: Pascal Bonitzer, Emanuelle Cuay, Jacques Rivette

Starring: Sandrine Bonnaire, Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Grégoire Colin, Laure Marsac, Françoise Fabian, Christine Vouilloz, Mark Saporta, Sara Louis, Hermine Karagheuz, Bernadette Giraud, Micheline Herzog

Year: 1997

Runtime: 170 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: France


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