Secrets of the Heart (1997) Poster

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I've got a secret for the director...
jotix10029 December 2001
This film by Montxo Armendariz did not get wide distribution in the US. It certainly is a much better film than recent arrivals from Europe and it deserved to have been seen by a wider audience.

This is a world seen by the eyes of Javi, who cannot comprehend the many secrets the adults in the family hide from him and the older brother. Everything that on the surface seems to be one way, mean something entirely different when kept away from the inquisitive mind of the young boy. He senses the dishonesty behind all the adults who cannot bring themselves to tell the truth to the boy, even though he is on the right track.

The young actor Andoni Erburu is the best thing going throughout the film. He has a very expressive face, with eyes that sparkle and tell a lot of what's going on in his mind. All the adults lie to him about the real tragedy around him. They all conspire in hiding from the children what they only can guess.

The cast is well balanced. Carmelo Lopez is only seen on a few scenes, even though he's one of the pivotal figures in this story. In general all the actors are very subdued in playing their parts, obviously under the tight rein of Mr. Armendariz, who up to now has made films that are utterly uncommercial, at least, the type to attract a wider audience, and he proves with this film that he can make them as well as some of the other good directors from Spain. Let's hope he leaves the themes of the Civil War behind and start telling us other "secrets" that have the haunting qualities of this film.
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Extraordinary child actor Andoni Erburu is the soul of this sensitive, rewarding film
debblyst9 February 2005
"Secretos del Corazón", is a sensitive, delicate, touching film made by one of the most talented Spanish filmmakers, the Basque Montxo Armendáriz. Perhaps the most impressive thing about it is how shrewdly Armendáriz captures the web of guilt, fear and repression of 1960s Spain, when the omnipresence of ponderous Catholic rituals and rigid moral codes translated the oppression of Franco's dictatorship to perfection.

We follow 9-year-old Javi (Andoni Erburu), an intelligent, naive, over-protected, sensitive kid learning to deal with the harsh process of growing up and overcoming his many fears (of crossing a stream, of an old empty house, of ghosts, of big bullies in school, of the dark, of school punishment, of losing his mother's love), discovering "shocking" family secrets and the raw truths of life (sex, death, violence, lies), facing the bewilderment of asking something to adults and not having honest answers back, or not being able to understand them. If you've been raised in a Latin Catholic country, you can relate even more closely to "Secretos del Corazón": a sort of education that -- as Javi's wise grandfather says -- never teaches children anything about the really important facts of life.

Everything in "Secreto" is skilfully accomplished: the cast is uniformly inspired, with Charo López as the liberal-minded aunt Maria and Joan Vallés as the stern grandfather especially fine. The costumes and set design take you right back to 1960s Spain, the plot unravels quietly and harmoniously so that when the big "revelation" comes it doesn't seem contrived. But above all, the triumph belongs to director Armendáriz's enormous sensibility and his extraordinary child actor Andoni Erburu, with his sad Pierrot face (somewhat reminiscent of Isabelle Adjani's), his toothy shyness, big curious eyes and emotional transparency that covers a large spectrum, but is never "cute" or maudlin -- it's a wonderful, natural, unforgettable performance, with a kind of innocence that's so hard to find today it drives you right back to another era (Erburu is from a rural Basque background), and can only be compared to Ana Torrent's fabulous performances in the 1970s for Saura and Erice. He deservedly won a collection of awards with this role, including the Goya and the Spanish Acting Guild Award for Best Newcomer.

I liked this film so much I asked a friend to buy the DVD in Spain (unfortunately no one could find it in New York - hello DVD stores! - this was an Academy Award nominee for best foreign film!), so I can watch it again from time to time. If you like a well-told story sensitively directed and acted, and aren't frightened by moderato pace, you'll find "Secretos del Corazón" richly rewarding. It makes, with Carlos Saura's haunting "Cría Cuervos" and Victor Erice's spell-binding "El Espíritu de la Colmena", an incomparable triptych of studies on childhood, loss of innocence, sexual repression and moral/religious/political oppression under Franco's Spain. Don't miss it.
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Great film!
Gordon-1128 February 2003
This film is so sweet!

When I watched this film it really brought me back to my childhood times. How I tell lies to scare my little brother was almost identical to what Juan did to Javi. And how Javi believed them all!

Javi was so sweet, and the acting by the little kids were great. The way that Javi and Carlos were disappointed at not seeing the girl's private part was so greatly acted. In addition, the sadness when Carlos lost his mother was almost genuine.

It was so interesting to see the world through a child's eye. Everything became so simple and yet so mysterious. I liked this film a lot and I would recommend it to others.
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unfortunate little boy !
judith32828 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I won't comment on the performing (very good), this commentary is focused on the story itself (beware, the full plot is disclosed)

"Secrets of the heart" ("Secretos del Corazon") is a film about a little boy, Javi, who has the misfortune of being born in an awful family who are all tormented or frustrated people.

On his mother's side he has two aunts. One is an alcoholic who finally manages to flee with a lover, bringing therefore disgrace to her family, given the moral standards of most occidental societies at the moment. His other aunt is a spinster, bitter and puritan.

His uncle (his father's only brother) and his widowed mother live in the same house with the grandfather and are secret lovers. They are eventually forced to get married when she gets pregnant.

His deceased father, who supposedly died by accident while cleaning a fire weapon, actually fired himself when he discovered the adultery of his wife with his own brother. We later learn that Javi was in fact the result of this adultery.

And the last adult member of such a troubled family is the grandfather, who seems the only well balanced member of it, if it hadn't been for his daughter-in-law bringing pain and death to his home. He is bitter about this, but tries to keep silence as he is no longer the head of family.

The rest of this film's universe is not much happier. Javi's best fried for example, loses his mother, an unhappy event in itself, but in addition to this it's a suicide (a rather common way to die in this film). As if this was not enough, the reason for her suicide is her alcoholic husband constantly beating her and her children.

We are also introduced to various local customs, Some of which are a bit shocking. Like when adults and children start making very hard noise with hands and/or objects at church (I'm sure that music would have much better softened these people's hearts) or when children are encouraged by adults to lapidate a human size doll hung from a tree by the neck. The doll is made with straw and dressed as a man. When the children finish throwing stones (that rip the doll's clothes and let the straw to be seen through) an adult sets fire to the doll. Everybody, children and adults, watch this sort of popular lynching with joy. Quite disturbing.

In this environment we witness this little boy progressively lose not only his innocence but also his principles. When Javy discovered that his uncle went each night to his mother's bed, Javy lost his appetite. At the film's end, when he discovers that his true father is actually his uncle, he seems quite happy. Looking at a photo of his parents, he addresses the man he has grown loving as his father as "uncle Antonio", while he smiles.

Along the film, Javy learns to lie and deceive in a cold and calculated way, for his own purposes (getting his brother a part in the school play at the expense of another boy), as in his young mind there are no longer moral limits.

He seems to feel reassured by overhearing his mother admiratively talking about him to her lover: "This child is like you : he gets whatever he wants", which is surely the least that could be said about his uncle's stealing his brother's wife. The lack of remorse for the high price payed for it (the life loss, orphanhood and family shame) has a parallel in Javi's absolute lack of remorse when deceiving by the end of the film.

One wonders how would things have been had this child grown up in a less tortuous family. But I don't agree that the film points out religious repression or politics as the source of all this unhappiness.

The biggest of all these "secrets" so bitterly kept in these people hearts is undoubtedly the true reason for Javy's father death.

And Javy's father didn't commit suicide because law, society or religion condemn adultery, but because he discovered that his wife and his only brother had both betrayed him. The pain of realizing this could be even harder if he sincerely loved them both.

Love and betrayal are universal and eternal, and have very little to do with religion, and certainly nothing to do at all with politics.

As a note, it's a common mistake to say that Armendariz is Basque while he is actually from Navarra, another Spanish province near one of the Basque provinces. Probably the reason for this error is that his films are frequently about Basque topics.
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Carlo Houtkamp30 January 2001
A beautiful film this little Spanish masterpiece from writer/director Montxo Armendàriz. He shows magnificent skill, subtlety and integrity when it comes to portraying the small town 1950's characters and their daily problems and pleasures. Seen through the eyes of young Javi, wonderfully played by Andoni Erburu who is in practically every scene.

A masterpiece this is. It is a great relief to know that films like this are made among the excessive violence of ultimately worthless films. I cannot discover any weaknesses in Secretos del Corazón. I simply love it. Credit to all who were involved in the creation of this beautiful work.
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Secrets and death as major themes
Andreas_N22 January 2006
Some other reviewers have claimed this movie to be uneventful - and they are right. I was not yet bored, but almost on the brink of it. What struck me most is the absence of any sort of dramatic and/or emotional climax. There is no final highlight, no real final denouement. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but here it was. Thus I cannot give the movie more than a 7, although it has lots of positive aspects to it. Let us look at them now.

Secrets of the Heart is a movie about individuals, about their daily struggles to survive and to find happiness, about their frailties and their sins. The two major themes I have detected are secrets and death, melted together in the social stratum of a lower class communal family in Spain in the early 1960s. The movie's protagonist is young Javi, a little boy. We see the world through his eyes mainly, in a naive and unaffected manner.

The theme of death is the strongest, very much linked to the theme of secrets. The death of Javi's father and the secrets his mother wants to hide from him and his brother represent the story's mysterious edge. Death and mysteries come up again when Javi and his friend Carlos want to find out about the secrets of a decayed mansion. Also the spider Javi observes in his uncle's cowshed symbolizes death, as we see it killing flies and other insects various times. So the story has indeed the capacity to provide some sort of exciting developments. It just does not fully use this capacity, and that is a pity.

The story rather focuses on a family portrayal. We get an insight look into the bleak and doleful existence of Javi's two aunts with all their imperfections and vices. The story of Javi's brother, his mother and his grandfather are presented similarly - subtle and somehow uneventful. Then again it is Javi's story, of how he grows up, how he influences and is influenced in return by the world and the individuals around him. He undergoes rites of passage and makes the story also a quest of finding out the truths about all the secrets and mysteries within his family in particular and of the world in general.

The story has its charm, but it did not exploit its full potential. It can be summarized as an authentic socio-cultural portrayal of family life, and as such it needs to be praised. However, there are too many subtle and uneventful sequences. I never felt the sort of emotional and moral attachment I normally expect from valuable movies dealing with sincere and genuine themes of life. Thus I was a bit disappointed. Those who like these sorts of cultural depictions into which you can interpret a lot and never become tired of finding new aspects by reflecting on the events will probably like it. I would have preferred some sort of real message running through the plot, some sort of dramatic climax or at least a higher pace in terms of developments.
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completely ordinary
planktonrules3 October 2005
Apart from an excellent job of acting by the child who plays the lead, there really isn't anything about this picture that makes it stand out in my mind. Having just seen it a couple days ago, it SHOULD be much clearer in my mind. I think it's because there's not much new or especially memorable here. About the only thing that stands out is this Spanish-language movie is the children's great fascination with "humping" (a word used at least a dozen times in the movie) and in this sense, it reminds me of the movie BUTTERFLY (though Butterfly is a better film). There's not a whole lot more to say other than the ordinariness made me wonder why all the positive reviews--especially since there are certainly better coming of age films. It's not like this is a bad film--just average in most respects.
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Enjoyable and thought-provoking picture starred by a phenomenal little actor
ma-cortes10 February 2014
Sensational film that dispenses a brooding plot and considered to be one of the best Spanish films of the 90s , in fact was voted one of the best pictures by professionals and critics . Well directed film by Montxo Armendariz , including his own story and screenplay , who tried to create an agreeable flick plenty of sensitivity and metaphor by tackling a description about a particular and dysfunctional family formed by two spinster aunts (Charo Lopez , Vicky Peña) , an affected mother (Silvia Munt) , the brother-in-law (Carmelo Gomez) , the grandfather (Joan Valles) , but especially focusing the little boy (Andoni Erburu) and his brother . This is an intense as well as sensitive drama dealing with a little boy called Javi , a coming-of-age tale in which he discovers the sense of life about sex , family , freedom and love . This slow-moving and intelligent picture is well set in Spain of the 50s . Javi (Andoni Erburu) and his friend Carlos (Garces) visit an old house on the outskirts of a small Spanish village next to Pamplona . According to his brother Juan (Nagore) this is a haunted house and one can hear the voices of the dead . Later he is intrigued with a room which is always closed and his mom (Silvia Munt) prohibits it . He is so interested in these mysteries that exacerbate his ingenuity and imagination . As Javi begins to investigate all the secrets of these dead people , of his family and their stories , but he finds terrible trues .

Sensitive film full of feeling , haunting mood-pieces , wonderful scenes and sense of wonder . Colorful picture , including marvelous frames , being mostly filmed at Tudela , Navarra and including sunny outdoor scenes . This extraordinary flick spells through intricate patterns of images , sets , sound and color . In addition , a magnificent support cast of known and prestigious players , such as Charo Lopez , Vicky Peña , Carmelo Gomez , Chete Lera , among others . His style is pretty much dry in the atmosphere as in the fresh dialog , as well as realistic , and including pleasant elements as when the family sings popular songs . "Secrets of the Heart" is one of Armendariz's undisputed masterpieces and fundamental in his filmography where shows efficiently an interesting story and shot at the height of his creativity , with some peculiar characters , as the main starring boy , his spinster aunts and the grudge grandfather . Splendid , luxurious photography with juicy atmosphere by Javier Aguirresarobe . Aguirresarobe subsequently would make a prestigious career in Hollywood such as ¨Fright night , ¨The twilight saga: eclipse¨, ¨The road¨ , ¨The others¨ and many others . Interesting screenplay by the same director based on a original story . Moving and emotive musical score by Bingen Mendizabal and including unforgettable regional songs . This touching picture will appeal to Spanish films buffs ; being deservedly nominated for Oscar Best Foreign Language Film, and won Blue Angel in Berlin International Film Festival 1997 . Furthermore , achieved Goya prizes : Best Supporting Actress , Charo López , Best New Actor ,Andoni Erburu, Best Sound , Best Production Design , Félix Murcia , Best Director , Montxo Armendárizand Best Film . Rating : Top-notch and outstanding movie , worthwhile seeing .

The motion picture perfectly produced by magnificent producers Andres Santana and Imanol Uribe was stunningly directed by Montxo Armendariz , a very good Spanish movies director . Montxo is a well recognized filmmaker both nationally and internationally, and in proof of it he won many prizes in several Festivals . Montxo Armendáriz was born in Navarra, and his films are mostly set in this Spanish region . He is a nice writer and director, expert on dramas , being especially known for Tasio (1984) , 27 hours (1986) , Cartas a Alou (1990) , Secretos del Corazón (1997), Silencio roto or Broken silence (2001) Obaba (2005), and No Tengas Miedo (2011) .
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perfect in every way
daneeelj27 November 2001
Usually I can find a weakness in any movie I've watched, but this movie's unique, as I can't find anything wrong with it... It's sometimes a sad movie, but not the kind of bleeding heart sadness in those awful modern comedy love stories. If you get the chance to see this movie, see it.
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A little boy's thoughts, fears, secrets ........ are not just simple childishness
khatcher-226 September 2001
Montxo Armendáriz, who has also filmed shorts such as Carboneros de Navarra (1981), Ikuska 12 (1981), Ikusmena (1980, and Barregarriaren Dantza (1979) not listed in IMDb, is essentially Navarran rather than Spanish in most of his filmography. This is clearly seen in Tasio (1984)(qv), the film which made him well known. and in "Secretos del Corazón".

`Secretos del Corazón', much the same as `Tasio', is an intimistic portrait of rural life in Navarra, though the focus of attention is totally different. Through the eyes of a ten year-old-boy, Javi (Andoni Erburu), we enter the mysterious world of growing up, in this case in the 1950s. The action moves from Pamplona, capital of Navarra, made famous by Hemingway unfortunately, to villages high up on the skirts of the Pyrenees. These villages, little more than an hour's car ride from where I am, offer delights to any traveller worth his salt. Ochagavía, situated high up the valley of the River Salazar, is formed mostly by noble late 17th/early 18th Century houses, with beautiful little streets and squares which are just delightful for having your tea and croissants any early-summer Sunday morning; Roncal, further to the east is famed for its cheese and sits astride the relaxing River Esca; further up the valley of Roncal you reach the delightful town of Isaba, picturesque, though tends to become a bit of a hustle and bustle at weekends. However, the spooky house is near Marcilla, at Barandalla, next to the sugar factory, way down to the south in the area known as the Ribera. How Armendáriz managed to get a train to pass just at the moments when the lads run pell-mell out of the gate, I do not know, as I have never seen a train pass through the derelict-looking railway station there.

The genius of Armendáriz is apparent here, even more than in `Tasio'. The story here is somewhat more tangible, and the many children in the film in general, and Andoni Erburu in particular, are extraordinary. Charo López is good; nice to see Silvia Munt again, so many years after `La Plaza del Diamante' (1981), but I was very attracted to Joan Valies playing the grandfather, sitting in his chair, who even had to have his hair combed for him, but whose mind still worked:

<< `Do you know why I don't want to die?' `No.' `Nor do I' >>

<< If you hit a child when he is speaking the truth, he will learn not to do so.' >>

There are some beautiful scenes of a spider's web, with the big spider in it, taken with the sun shining in through it. That web had to be moved from another house and placed there for the film! Such is the effort and detail Armendáriz is prepared to go to in order to reach his personal taste for perfection.

Yes, it is all there: the cows coming home in the evening to sleep at home in the stalls which form the ground floor of these houses in the sierra; the religious or just simply traditional customs of the villagers, revived in some cases for the making of the film; the mares coming home to foal; the beautiful golden browns of autumnal Pyrenees, beautifully filmed by Javier Aguirresarobe, and beautifully accompanied by Bingen Mendizábal's music. Talking about the music: there is a beautiful scene in which Javi is asking his old aunt, spinster, why she had never married and if it was because she did not want to `chingar'; she replied that she did not want to be bossed around by a man, and as she goes away to weep, Beethoven's Triple Concerto swells up on the old radio..... According to my `Diccionario María Moliner' the verb `chingar' has some uses in Costa Rica, usually meaning to play jokes, so can only deduce that its use here is a localism up in those Navarran villages. The film discloses some of that mysteriousness which when we grow up we conveniently forget about, a lot of silly childishness; however in this film the focus is very much a local one, very Spanish, such that maybe certain things might not be interpreted in the same way through other eyes - not that this would detract from the beauty of the film and understanding the empiric aspects.

Do not lose the scene where the two little kids pay three pesetas to see a girl's knickers: she sits on a bench in the park in front of them, shows a little above the knees and walks off. The two lads look at each other, confused and frustrated:

<< `Is that all? Shucks! We've been done....!' >>
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An interesting and peculiar film that is, above all the things, about secrets
Atreyu_II17 August 2010
This Spanish film was a success in both ways (box office and critically). Despite a few faults and a few somewhat inconsistent sequences, it is a reasonable movie.

Secrets are the main subject of this film, what this movie is mostly about. The second main subject is death - not *really* deaths "per se", but more of conversations about it and secrets related to those deaths.

This foreign motion picture has a solid story, even though (just a personal thought) it could use more sequences in the old abandoned house. That'd only do good to it.

Javi is wonderfully performed by Andoni Erburu. This kid must have been quite a revelation when this movie came out. His cuteness, his tender and so expressive face, his undeniable talent... a natural-born actor. Íñigo Garcés also gives a good portrayal of his friend Carlos. The same about Álvaro Nagore (who sadly died in a car crash shortly after this movie was made, at the very young age of 14/15) as Juan (Javi's brother). Javi's grandfather is funny because he is such a grumpy old man and he is well portrayed by the actor.

The mysterious voices of dead people heard in some bits of this movie must have served as an inspiration for the over-hyped American film 'The Sixth Sense'.
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Tedious and uneventful
=G=1 June 2003
"Secrets of the Heart" is a relatively uneventful but often poignant Spanish coming-of-age/slice-of-life flick about a boy's learning about life....period. If that sounds dull it's probably is because it is dull. This tedious film features a cute kid with a whole lot of questions about everything which may be of interest to those who were never a boy. Like maybe females. Having been a boy, this film showed me nothing new. Been there, done that. Better films are easy to find. (C+)
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Very uneventful
mmereos28 August 2003
There is nothing mysterious or magical about this movie. This movie was very uneventful. Sure it's the coming of age of a little boy, but personally I don't care about a movie that shows the daily life of a little boy. There really was no plot to this movie; it's just the day to day life of a little boy and nothing more. Movies like this are very frustrating to watch because you see many people that wrote great reviews of it and then you watch it and think that you didn't get it. It's like going to watch an Opera, because people think it's the cultural thing to do, and you go watch the opera and you realize you hate operas. This movie was like a opera to me.
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