| This multi-layered family drama takes place in three distinct time periods. It is a deeply moving and heartfelt story that makes an indelible impression on the viewers’ hearts and minds. Much like last year’s “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” it personalizes the names and faces of those who suffered tragedy, grief and loss from the devastation of the Holocaust.
Claude Miller, one of France’s most renowned directors with a particular interest in psychological mysteries, has adapted for the screen this true story based on the best-selling autobiographical novel “Memory” by Parisian psychoanalyst Philippe Grimbert.
Grimbert learns the family’s apparently venerable surname, with roots in French medieval aristocracy, is a fake, having been changed from “Grinberg” in an effort to erase the past. This is one of the many facts hidden by a husband and wife from their only child, along with the guilt and shame they feel inside. The movie jumps back and forth in time with fragmented puzzle pieces that at first confuse and complicate matters. However, patience pays off for the viewer as things coalesce into a haunting entirety.
The 37-year-old version of Francois (Mathieu Amalric from “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “Quantum of Solace”) appears in black-and-white segments set in the summer of 1985 and serves as the voiceover narrator.
The movie opens in the summer of 1955 at a swanky private club in Paris. Tania (Cecile De France), a beautiful blonde in a black bathing suit, makes a perfect dive into the swimming pool. Her husband, Maxime (Patrick Bruel), is playing tennis on a nearby clay court. Francois, age 7, is the sickly, only child of this glamorous athletic couple. He has a vivid imagination and invents a phantom brother who is stronger and better looking. He also creates an idyllic past that includes how his parents met and fell in love. One day Francois follows his mother up to the attic, where he discovers an old suitcase that contains a little toy dog wearing a knitted sweater. This is the first clue to unraveling a strange and surprising past.
He learns more when he is about to turn 15. Francois flirts with a Jewish girl and subsequently gets into a fight at school with a classmate who makes fun of dead bodies in a Holocaust documentary. It is then that Louise (Julie Depardieu from “A Very Long Engagement” and daughter of French star Gerard), a longtime family friend who wears a gold Star of David necklace, betrays Francois parents’ trust and reveals to him what actually took place before he was born.
Throughout the flashback action, newspaper headlines about World War II milestones are strategically placed to help the audience maintain their bearings chronologically. The movie shows how life goes on and fate ultimately takes its course. It explores the natural parental desire to protect innocent loved ones by remaining silent and burying a disturbing past. It points out that you might as well take pride in your heritage and religious traditions, because you can’t change or escape your genetic makeup through assimilation.
The movie has a nostalgic atmosphere and is strong in every filmmaking category, with a superb adapted screenplay, marvelous acting, picturesque locations, period-perfect costumes, vivid cinematography and a violin-rich musical score.
“A Secret” was named one of the top five foreign films of 2008 by the National Board of Review. It was nominated for 11 Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscar) and Depardieu won for Best Supporting Actress. The film was awarded the prestigious Grand Prix at the Montreal World Film Festival.
This mesmerizing melodrama has a running time of 105 minutes and is intended for mature audiences, as it contains erotic, sexual situations and smoking. The dialogue is in French with English subtitles. Opening exclusively at the Rio Theatre in Overland Park.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"