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Well, I'm very definitely with those who praise this film. I think it's
It has many qualities that I value. To begin with, the narrative is entirely believable. I particularly liked the fact that one of the principal characters was a Jew who didn't didn't care much about being a Jew and felt no need to proclaim his Jewishness to the world: there are many Jews like that and they are as entitled to respect as a non-practising Christian or Muslim or anyone else. The knowledge of the son that he's a disappointment to his father rang true. The acceptance by some Jews of the Nazi laws, and the belief of those same Jews that if they obey the laws, wear the star, stay away from public swimming pools, then they will be all right. The desire of those who live through the holocaust to put it behind them rather than dwell on it.
I like its directness and understatement. There are no histrionics. The story is told; the audience observes and draws its own conclusions.
The acting and directing are uniformly outstanding. I'd never had much time for Cécile de France, but she is perfect in this rôle. Patrick Bruel as the athletic father is just as good, and Julie Dépardieu as the family friend and the three actors who play the son at different times of his life are up there too; in fact, it's unfair to leave anyone out.
The director Claude Miller deserves special mention. I haven't seen any of his other films, but I'll look out for him from now on. He handles the film with absolute confidence, never obtruding, but conveying every nuance without faltering. This is a classic example of how simplicity, directness and lack of elaboration can add to the power of a story.
This film deserves much more than it's current user rating of 6.7.
This is a complex, moving and beautifully realised film by Miller. The
themes of rejection, love, loss and guilt are explored in a complex
narrative structure where ultimately the guilt of one man and the
rejection felt by one woman are mirrored in the guilt of the French
nation in their rejection and abandonment of their Jewish fellow
Lush cinematography, precise mise en scene and excellent performances including Ludivine Sagnier cast against type as the object of non-desire make for a totally satisfying cinematic experience. Perhaps we could have done without the coda in Laval's pet cemetery but by that stage I and the rest of the audience were emotionally drained. Go see.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I didn't know exactly what to expect when I went to see this film, so I arrived with an open mind. Upon leaving, I was pleasantly surprised by how this film had reached in and grabbed me, leaving me thinking about it for the rest of the evening. The film revolves around François, and takes place over a number of decades, starting in the 1950's and fast-forwarding at certain parts to the 1980's. François in the 1950's is a young boy, a bit shy, who doesn't seem to meet the expectations of his gymnast father, Maxime, here played by French singer/actor Patrick Bruel. We can see that the relationship between François and Maxime is strained, and we can sense that even the relationship between Maxime and Tania (François' mother, played by the superb Cecile de France) is not exactly "normal." François, an only child, has an imaginary friend, or should I say an "imaginary brother." This brother is stronger, faster, better than François, and leaves François frequently daydreaming about him. This leads us to the "secret" which the film title hints at. At this point we know that things in general aren't "right", that something has happened that François doesn't know about, but feels. Finally, at the age of 15, a kindly neighbor who has known Maxime and Tania for many years, lets François in on the "secret" and we go back in time 20 years. In the mid 1930's, Maxime has married a beautiful young woman named Hannah and has a big, spectacular Jewish wedding. At this point, Hannah introduces Maxime to her brother Robert and Robert's wife Tania. Life is good and Hannah and Maxime have a son, Simon. Over the 5 or 6 years that follow, World War II unravels and France slowly becomes occupied. French Jew's start wearing the Star of David on their clothing, but Maxime refuses to wear one. This causes an uproar in the family as he is accused of denying his Jewish faith. Both Robert and Maxime are sent away to fight in the war, and whereas Maxime makes it back, Robert is still stuck at war. Not to give away the climax of the film, I will briefly summarize the next part. Maxime and part of his family decide to obtain false papers and head to unoccupied France, with the intention of the rest of the family (Hannah, Simon, etc) later... I will not give away the rest of what happens next. It is at this point in the film that François (at age 15) understands the importance of the famous family "secret" and begins to understand his life, why his parents are how they are, why he is even alive. The flash-forwarding to the 1980's at different points in the film show us a grown François, and an even older Maxime and Tania. They give us a better understanding of the characters, a more complete aspect of the whole story. As I mentioned, the film is incredibly touching. The film is shrouded in a profound sadness that can be felt from the beginning, but for just cause. It is not until François learns this secret that he can even begin to understand his existence. Overall great acting. I have not read the book, and as books are usually better than the movie, I cannot make a comparison. But I do believe an honest effort was made to bring the story to life. I definitely recommend this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's worth noting, if you have read other comments, that the people who
have bad mouthed it actually had no idea what was going on, why things
happened and who was who. I find this "solidly" irritating.
This movie was great from start to finish. Tania is married to Robert. Robert is Hannah's brother. So Tania and Hannah are sisterS-in-law. From first meeting, Maxime is mesmerized by Tania and who wouldn't be. As Louise says "... I find her desirable ...". Cécile De France is superbly cast as Tania and every credit to the film makers for making her that object of desire in every scene. This alone makes the movie a delicious treat. I have not read the book. The movie is a tragedy of war and a masterpiece of the senses.
Spoilers follow: Robert is sexy enough himself, there is no reason to suspect that Tania would ever wander. Robert is sent to a POW camp early on, so WE know he's not likely coming back ... but THEY do not. Hannah has seen the way Maxime looks at Tania but Tania makes it perfectly clear to Maxime that nothing is going to happen between them. However, Hannah doesn't know this. Hannah is a young mother with quite normal insecurities and a little irrational jealousy. Hard to avoid these feelings when you see Cécile in this movie. Any woman would be jealous. Maxime's devotion to his wife and son are never in question over his simple obsession with Tania. He loves his wife, he lusts after Tania.
Maxime also alienates Hannah's parents by refusing to register as a Jew. Hannah goes behind Maxime's back and registers herself.
The tragedy lies in Hannah's doubts and subsequent anger over what she "thinks" Maxime "feels" for Tania. This is compounded when her parents are transported.
When she finds out that Tania will also be in their hiding place, she becomes even more frustrated at her position and doesn't want to leave Paris. Her act of "outing" herself as a Jew is simple rebellion and disobedience directed at Maxime. Nothing more. Herein lies the awful tragedy of the war. The major point to remember here is that as you sit watching this unfold, YOU know immediately what will happen to her and Simon, but she did not. The full horror or the holocaust was not revealed until after liberation so none of these people can know their fate in reality. At worst, she probably thought she would meet up with her parents somewhere else. At best she was showing Maxime she would do as she pleased.
This tragedy was the highlight of the movie for me. It was such a simple act of disobedience that changed everyone's lives forever.
It is a haunting wonderful film that leaves you thinking about it long after it has finished.
One of the big achievements of Un Secret which must be noted is that
the director, Claude Miller, doesn't entirely sympathize with his
characters or make them out to be all completely good Jews. They're
not. This is a film concerning the holocaust that doesn't just make a
blanket statement like "Nazis = Bad". No, there were Jews who were in
denial, and tried to cloud over the horrible fact that was upon all of
Europe, and indeed it's when the film takes its most dissecting view at
the flaws of these characters that the veneer is stripped away of
completely innocent people being swept up in the maelstrom. While
Miller obviously acknowledges and shows the horror of anti-semitism in
France (one brief scene in a classroom showing Night and Fog is
especially startling) and of the rise of Hitler, he puts his eye on the
Grinberg family and what really happened between François Grimbert's
parents (name changed when he was a kid) before and during World War 2.
Miller's approach with Un Secret is a tricky one structurally, and it doesn't quite find it's footing until a third of the way into the film. He tries to find a back-and-forth-and-back form of dealing with three periods of time: 1930s, 1950s/1960s and 1985 when everybody is older and it turns to black and white (an opposite touch that works, for a moment), and it's only effective in about the first five minutes. I became wary of those sudden jumps to the 1985 portion of the film, where we see an old Maxime Nathan Grinberg (Patrick Bruel) grieving over the loss of his dog and his son trying to find him, and found it didn't strike anywhere near as well as the 50s scenes. On top of this, after all of the film has ended, that huge chunk of the film with the focus on that first marriage of Grinberg's with Hannah and his very obvious but eventually-acted-on infatuation with Tania (very sexy Cecile de France) was far more effective dramatically and tonally than anything else in the film.
This is not to say Un Secret doesn't cast a very fascinating look into this particular boy's lack of perspective and of his father's determination to compete on a physical level with the Germans, to almost "be" one in a perfectionist sense athletically, and how this one secret is part of scarred memory, attachment to one's faith and religion and who they are, and love and lust. The cast is generally excellent, with Bruel, De France and Sagnier delivering work with nuance and exquisite, painful emotions that resonate from one into the next scene (Sagnier is so good she gets us to feel repulsed, or at least taken completely aback, by what she does while in hiding). And the moods of joy and despair in a Jewish family circa 1930s and 1940s- and the subsequent self-imposed shame of people in Europe even after the war ended- is captured with some real power and accuracy.
But Miller also can't completely fix together his narrative; he feels the need to jump around as if it will create a really intriguing rhythm, where if he stepped back and told it without sudden jumps or surreal bits like the "brother" in the boy's bedroom at night the film would benefit. There is also a lack of a real resolution; the 1985 scene just didn't cut it for me as far as an unspoken father/son thing, and despite it sounding conventional a confrontation of the boy to his parents might have brought something more interesting than the uneven subtlety of the ending. A lot of this is so hearth-breaking in its true dimensions and probing of the subject that the only real disappointment is how it doesn't fell... complete with itself.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film about a Jewish family that hides some of its most devastating
personal Holocaust losses after the end of the Occupation has relative
mainstream appeal. As I've noted earlier, Variety predicted "good, but
unexciting" prospects for a US release. While the film did relatively
well in France considering the high US market share these days, that
means it ranked 20th for box office there (according to
ScreenDaily.com). A Secret/Un Secret tells the story of a boy named
Francois (Valentin Vigourt at 7, Quentin Dubois at 14, Matthieu Amalric
as a grown man in the 1980's--who now is a therapist who treats shy,
withdrawn boys like himself when young). Growing up in the Fifties,
Francois has a mother, Tania Grimbert (Cecile de France) who's
beautiful and athletic and a great diver, while he's studious and frail
and afraid of the water and of strangers. As a seven-year-old Francois
is comforted and (literally) massaged and given vitamin shots by Louise
(Julie Depardieu), an old friend of the family. Francois is the despair
of his father, Maxime Grimbert (Patrick Bruel), who wants him to do
gymnastics and be athletic.
Francois, like many kids, has an imaginary playmate and in this case this phantom companion is a kind of superior doppelganger, a brother who is good at sports, lively, cheerful, outgoing: everything he doesn't seem to be.
In the framing present-time sequences, in black and white, where Francois is Amalric, he meets with Louise and gets a series of revelations about hidden secrets which in part at least he has perhaps by now long suspected. Events a decade before his birth are unveiled, beginning in the early Thirties and leading up to and beyond the War. Amalric's voice-over narrates introductions to these sequences. He learns that his father Maxime had another wife, Hannah (Ludivine Sagnier), a wan and ultimately gloomy individual (she is always seen without makeup, in an unflattering hairdo, smoking) who yet has a robust baby boy, Simon (Orlando Nicoletti). And Simon is the sprightly little gymnast Maxime wanted.
The body of the film is what happens when the War comes and France comes under Nazi occupation. A Secret isn't an extremely complicated story but it is a paradoxical one, with parallels and contrasts that may strain credulity. No doubt its central points are eternally valid: the perversions and horrors of the Holocaust, the need of Jews present in Europe at that time to forget in order to move on. The movie is composed of short scenes that block in personalities, situations, and events schematically. It's particularly heavy-handed in lining up Tania to be Maxime's future mate after Hannah is gone by having him ogling her constantly at all times, when she is married to Robert (Robert Plagnol), who is conveniently taken to Breslau as a soldier early in the war: Maxime is ogling no one but Tania even all during his own wedding. Is this necessary? Hardly, but it does set things up clearly in visual terms, through telegraphic closeups and editing.
All this schematic stuff undoubtedly works well with viewers on a conventional level, and the production values are good, the scenes richly worked out. It's fun to watch the Fifties bathing scene, which introduces the young Francois as a fish out of mainstream water. Cecile de France is lovely to look at; I'm sorry I said she looked "stolid" and "overly athletic": she's just grand. And no doubt Maxime's constant cruising of Tania is indeed meant to be one of the things that undermines the wilted Hannah's morale. It's not certain that Tania is ideally cast. Tania/Cecile is meant to be a "liver" and a winner, as Hannah is not. But all this is telegraphed so blatantly--as is the contrast between Francois and Simon. Could it not have been made a little more subtle?
Nothing can change the power of the devastating moment when Tania and Simon's doom is sealed. It's horrible, it's manipulative (because necessary to the story but not sufficiently motivated), but it's nonetheless memorable. And everything that follows has an emotionality and warmth that the preceding two thirds of the film lacked. The grown up Francois gets a call and rushes him to his aged father, Maxme, who's sitting desolate on a Paris bench after he's let his dog run free on a walk and it's led to the animal's death. Maxime, Francois narrates in voice-over, has recovered from the loss of Simon and Hannah, but he is left inconsolable by the death of his dog. This is how his survivor guilt reemerges. No wonder Francois later has the inspiration of investigating his past and writing about it while visiting a pet cemetery, with his sister, at the aristocratic country house where his father and Tania and Louise were given refuge during the war.
Note: the film is based on a novel by Philippe Grimbert. Some of the French reviews note the difficulty of embodying this powerful work in a film. The reviews are solidly favorable, if few are ecstatic. Once again Miller has done something that's worth watching, but not extraordinary. It's a strong cast, if you accept the workmanlike Gruel in his pivotal role.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Claude Miller has created one of the more challenging and intensely human dramas about World War II in his film UN SECRET (A SECRET). Though one of many stories about the plight of Jews during the events that lead up to and exploded into WW II, Miller's story is less about the cruel destiny of the Jews in Hitler's plundering of Europe than it is a study of a few individuals who struggled with their identity in the face of probable extermination. Based on a true story in Phillippe Grimbert's novel by the same name, UN SECRET gracefully and artistically draws the viewer into the psyche of the narrator François Grimbert (played at ages 7, 14 and 37 by Valentin Vigourt, Quentin Dubuis, and Matthew Almaric) whose relationship to his father Maxime (Patrick Bruel) has always been strained. The story winds from contemporary time, to the period in France before WW II, through the horrors of the Halocaust, and the years of rebuilding following the war. Maxime 'Grinberg' (Patrick Bruel) marries Hannah (Ludvine Sagnier) in a beautiful Jewish wedding. Hannah's brother is married to a brilliant athlete Tania (Cecile De France) and even at the wedding the equally athletic Maxime has eyes for Tania. All possible conflicts seem to diminish when Maxime and Hannah have a son, Simon (Orlando Nicoletti) who develops into a naturally gifted athlete the joy of Maxime's life. As WW II approaches the Jews of Paris are instructed to wear their yellow Star of David patches, and while Hannah feels pride in her race, Maxime refuses to be 'labeled' and defies the ruling. When the SS come to transport Jews out of Paris, Hannah and Simon are removed to a camp while Maxime manages to stay in Paris with a new French name. Popular as a fashion model and designer, Tania is able to stay unnoticed as a Jew also, but her husband is off to war and extermination. Maxime and Tania learn of their families' demise and bond, eventually marrying using French names (Grimberg becomes Grimbert), join the Catholic Church and have a son François who is nothing like Simon nor does he know of his father's rejection of him as a poor comparison to the perfect Simon But as the years pass François discovers his family's past and a reconciliation with his Jewish heritage confronts him. How the maturing François ultimately relates to his distant father brings closure to the story. The cast is excellent, including some of the lesser roles - especially the ever-present Louise (Julie Depardieu) - played by gifted actors. Claude Miller's recreation of time lapses is successfully highlighted by interchanging black and white with color photography (by cinematographer Gérard de Battista) and the changing moods of the story are greatly enhanced by the musical score by Zibigniew Preisner. UN SECRET, then, is a stunning work that explains many aspects of the varying responses of Jews to that horrid period of history designed by Hitler. It is a deeply satisfying and profoundly moving film. Highly recommended.
Having read the comments on this site, after having heard a friend (whose opinions aren't always reliable) say I must see it, I expected a marginally good picture when I rented the DVD. OK, I thought, another personal story about French and German anti-Semitism in WW II. This time my friend was right! A Secret was a knockout. It hit home and revived childhood memories. And it's as much or more about pre-WW II & post-WW II as it is about during. I won't repeat what others have rightly said about the uniformly excellent acting or the directing or the photography, etc. Among the things that hit home to me were the child's (or children's) point of view--SO on target--and the very different types of Jews portrayed in this film. Even though I "knew" (intuited) what would happen to some characters, what actually did happen was better than my imaginings. Its reference to the big illusion (La grande illusion) was apt (as well as the one character who actually saw it). More than one illusion is shattered by this pic, which like my friend I highly recommend.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Saw this film at Lincoln Center with the director, Claude Miller, in
attendance. During a question and answer session he stated that he's
always asked the same question at these sessions--that is, why did he
use color for the scenes in the past and an off gray for the scenes
that are supposed to take place in the present (the present being 1985,
the time when the story is narrated by the main character). Miller
replied that he simply needed a way to distinguish between the past and
the present. Personally I was uneasy with the director's decision to
reverse the traditional use of color to connote the past; others may
A Secret is told in a series of flashbacks that cover three time periods. The narrator is the grown up son telling the story of his family in 1985. At the beginning the elderly father has disappeared after the family dog is killed by a car. The son recalls his difficult childhood in 1955; the father expected him to be a vigorous athlete but as a child he's sickly. Then we flash back further to learn that the father was married to another woman during the time when the Nazis occupied France. The first son wins awards as a child athlete and the father is very proud of him. Slowly a family secret is revealed--the man's father and his family were originally Jewish. The father escapes to a rural area away from the Nazi occupation. The mother and son are expected to join him but ends up revealing her Jewish identity to gendarmes just before she is about to cross the border into the non- occupied area of France.
The first wife is jealous of his brother's wife (who is now the mother of the narrator son in the later scenes). The first wife learns earlier on that her husband has been having an affair with the sister-in-law; she no longer feels she can join her husband since she believes he's no longer in love with her. The first wife is willing to sacrifice herself and her son out of either anger of depression (or both).
All this is supposedly based on a true family story. The most compelling part of the film are the scenes in the early 40s where the Jewish families must deal with the gradual erosion of their liberties, discrimination against them and eventual arrest and deportation by the French authorities who are acting in concert with the Germans. The extent of the collaboration of the French populace is not glossed over and Miller does an excellent job in creating the atmosphere of those times. It's a cautionary tale about the dangers of Fascism.
The other part of the film, the family drama, simply isn't as compelling. Once the 'secret' is revealed, one realizes that it's not much of a secret at all. There were a fair number of Jews who had to convert to Christianity in order to save themselves during the war and their deep fears of being singled out by Fascists in the future kept them from converting back, even long after the war. The big hook here is of course the decision of the first wife not to join the husband. Her reasons are never explored and we're left to speculate what caused her to allow herself and her son to be arrested. The first wife's decision is supposed to be deeply shocking but the revelation doesn't feel like the twist ending the director was hoping for.
The very fact that we never really find out what the first wife's motives were is unsatisfying (at the same time one can easily speculate that she became unhinged out of jealousy). One wonders how the narrator son (who later ironically becomes a child psychologist treating autistic children) ends up so well adjusted given his traumatic childhood. It's unclear what happens to the mother--at a certain point, the narrator indicates the father left her after she suffers a stroke (when this happens is also unclear). When all is said and done, A Secret is a mixed bag but worthwhile seeing to gain some insight concerning the Holocaust.
Director Claude Miller ('The Little Thief')has gone and crafted a fine, taut,heartbreaking tale of repression,tragedy & truth,leading to closure. 'A Secret',adapted from the novel of the same name by author Phiiippe Grimbert,concerns a man,Francois,who as a young boy,had the feeling that he had an older brother. When he couldn't get a straight answer from his tight lipped family,he goes on a search for the truth & gets more than he bargained for. The film boasts of a fine cast,including Julie Depardieu,daughter of actor Gerard Depardieu,and the always welcome Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool). The story's pace may be a bit slow for most Western viewers,but waiting it out will be well worth it,for the final solution. The film's visual look is a treat for the eye (with the present day sequences filmed in black & white, and the scenes that take place in the past which were filmed in colour,which may remind some viewers of 'Les Violins Du Bal'). Films like this deserve far better than they get (unlike any & all of the latest cine crapola that feature Pauly Shore or Adam Sandler). No rating,but contains nudity,sexual situations & some gruesome images of concentration camps that would be disturbing to youngsters under 15.
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