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Secret, A (DVD Review)

8 Feb, 2009 By: Billy Gil

A Secret

Box Office $0.6 million
$27.99 DVD
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Mathieu Amalric, Ludivine Sagnier, Cécile de France, Patrick Bruel, Julie Depardieu.

A Secret is the kind of film that reminds viewers of what is great about French cinema, exploring family tragedy and the power of memory and denial through the lens of a French-Jewish family during World War II.

Based on a book by Philippe Grimbert, the film tells of young François, a sweet and quiet Jewish boy who succeeds in school yet evades his father’s approval, lacking the physical prowess his father possesses. To make matters worse, François invents an imaginary brother who does everything he does, except better.

François (played as an adult by Quantum of Solace villain Mathieu Amalric) eventually discovers there’s a reason behind his father’s reluctance to accept his son.

It’s not always an easy film to watch. Like many great French films before it, A Secret can be unrelentingly sullen and is more concerned with delving steadily into stories and characters without pause for comic relief or extraneous subplot.

Unfortunately, the film can also be a bit lacking in suspense, and some tonal shifts are noticeable, which is sometimes appropriate in a film that confidently crosses between time, memory and imagination to tell its story.

High Tension’s Cécile De France is excellent as François’ mother, Tania, expressing ambiguous emotional states as much in her eyes as by her actions. The pride she feels as she climbs the high dive while onlookers admire her skill and physique is tangible, while the looks she shoots her husband (Patrick Bruel) convey a certain mixture of pain, sexual longing and patience.

Julie Depardieu (daughter of Gerard) is wonderfully sympathetic as a family friend and nurse Louise, who has no children and cares for François as her own. But the main draw here is how Grimbert and writer-director Claude Miller arrange pieces of the film into a snaking trail that will have you rewatching just to see how they fit.

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