A Secret (France; 105 min.)

directed by: Claude Miller
starring: Cécile De France, Patrick Bruel, Ludivine Sagnier, Julie Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric, Valentin Vigourt, Quentin Dubois
Un Secret

Bruce says: "Set during the Nazi occupation of France during WWII, A SECRET is a war film, a love story, a coming-of-age tale and a mystery all wrapped into one very neat package. Its main asset, among many, is the incandescent presence of Cécile De France who plays the exotic Tania, the mother of François Grimbert who happens to be a champion swimmer. De France (AVENUE MONTAIGNE, L’AUBERGE ESPAGNOL, RUSSIAN DOLLS) literally adds another dimension to every one of her films. It goes without saying, I’m a big fan.

"François - played at ages seven, fourteen and thirty seven by Valentin Vigourt, Quentin Dubois, and Mathieu Amalric – struggles to make sense out of events that are going on in his life in his younger years and to solve the puzzle as he matures. François can never seem to please his father (Patrick Bruel) who is cold and distant as far as his son is concerned. As a child he does not realize that his family is Jewish so many of the things that happen to him are inexplicable. His parents do not wish to draw attention to their ethnicity for obvious reasons. That explains why their name was changed. But that is not the whole story. In the course of the film it becomes obvious that not everyone in the family was in accord on the issue of secrecy and that the family has experienced painful events that have been swept under the proverbial rug.

"The trigger that sets off the unraveling of the mystery is a toy which François finds in the attic. He is reprimanded for his discovery, a strange experience for a young boy. Other strange happenings include his watching his parents’ lovemaking and seeing his Aunt Louise giving his mother a massage. Divulging too much about the plot would be unfair to any reader who has not seen the film.

"Ludivine Sagnier (LOVE SONGS, SWIMMING POOL, A GIRL CUT IN TWO, 8 WOMEN, WATER DROPS ON BURNING ROCKS), Julie Depardieu (BLAME IT ON FIDEL!, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT), and Patirck Bruel are all excellent. Based on a true story, Claude Miller handles the subject matter with tenderness and dignity. A SECRET could have been 'another Holocaust story.' However, the film is as driven by the personalities of the characters as it is by the events of the war. It is a tale of passion, love, and repression. 4.5 cats"

Jason says: "THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN is filled with things that make for great movies and great drama - opening a new restaurant, conflict between new and old families after divorce, being an ethnic minority, adultery, and cooking delicious food.  Writer/director Abdel Kechiche, however, chooses approach these things obliquely, and to draw out what he does show in the most patience-trying way possible.

"We follow Slimane Beiji (Habib Boufares), a long-time dockworker in a port city in the south of France, and fidgety moviegoers should take it as an omen that we're introduced to him by way of his boss upbraiding him for taking three days to do a two-day job.  His hours are cut and he leaves the yard, making stops to visit and deliver fresh fish to his ex-wife Souad (Bouraouïa Marzouk) and his daughter Karima (Farida Benkhetache), before coming home to girlfriend Latifa (Hatika Karaoui) and her daughter Rym (Hafsia Herzi).  Laid off, he decides to open a floating seafood restaurant featuring Souad's fish couscous, though the help of Rym and his family only takes him so far when trying to navigate the bureaucracy and woo investors.

"Kechiche makes what are, if we choose to be kind, unconventional choices as to what to show and what not to show during the first hour-plus.  For instance, we see Slimane and his boss discussing the severance package that he had been resisting, but the scene ends with him being told his hours are reduced; his actual losing of his job happens off-screen.  We don't get a scene of him purchasing the boat, or deciding to open a restaurant.  We don't get Slimane broaching the idea of the restaurant with Souad, or any confrontation between Slimane and Latifa over this idea.  Much of this is supplied to us after the fact, by a chorus of Arab magicians sitting outside Latifa's restaurant.  That's typical of what is shown through much of the movie, circular conversations that practically wear a rut in the ground by coming back to the same point over and over again.  There's an extended Sunday dinner at Souad's which almost does this well, but like nearly every other scene in the movie, it goes on too long and repeats itself too often.

"Someone less story-oriented than I might think that Kechiche keeps most of the obvious plot-advancing events off-screen for aesthetic reasons, that they can be inferred and watching the characters react to them is a purer experience.  It's possible.  After a while, though, another theory started to come to mind:  what if Kechiche discovered and built the movie around Habib Boufares only to find he couldn't act?  That he has no other credits on IMDB isn't strong evidence for this theory (the further you get from Hollywood, the less complete it gets, and the ethnically North African/Arabic cast of an independent French film is a fair distance away), but it would explain the fact that, while Slimane is the film's central character, we never see him have a pivitol role in a scene.  Boufares looks perfect for the role - every individual line on his face and hitch in his gait is as it should be - but the film certainly seems to be working around him.

"As theories go, it's probably crazy and almost certainly unkind, but it's where my mind went during two and a half hours of doing things off-screen and numbing repetition within scenes.  It is, quite frankly, astonishing what a talent Kechiche has for wearing out a scene's welcome, especially in the last act.  For just the second time, something has happened on-screen which holds out the possibility of causing other things to happen, but, of course, what the characters wind up doing is STALLING in one location, and going through a series of incredibly drawn-out scenes in others.  One is particularly painful, because it's a woman crying her heart out, but it goes on for so damn long that I went from feeling bad for her to feeling bad about wanting her to shut up.  And it's just one of three prolonged time-killers Kechiche cuts between!

"The worst part is that for all the time burned, there are moments where THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN is cutting and potentially fascinating.  Hafsia Herzi, for instance, never strikes a dull note when she's on-screen; she plays Rym as intelligent, passionate, and fiercely loyal to the man who is like a father to her.  There's the flagrant way that the other local business owners make plans to sabotage Slimane while guests at his grand opening, and the way family differences explode into anger, especially among the women (Rym, her mother, and Slimane's daughters practically arch their backs like angry cats when confronted with each other).  Even the scene with the crying woman starts out wonderfully raw before it pounds the audience into numbness.

"Indeed, it's tempting to give the film higher marks based upon the good moments, or even recommend it to those who prize unfiltered realism, right down to the monotony.  I can't do it though, at least not now - the memory of banging the back of my head against the seat, desperate for the movie to end, or just get to the next scene, and seriously considering whether or not I would have walked out had I not been with a group is still too fresh. ½ CAT
Chris says: "I  really liked this movie.  I think it comes down a matter of taste and what your tolerance is for leisurely-paced narratives.  I agree that Kechiche makes many unconventional choices--particularly in what he skips over and only alludes to in subsequent scenes.  However, the discovery of these developments kept my attention, engaging me to fill in the blanks.  The circular conversations that occur throughout are often exasperating, but I think that's the point: the characters partaking in them are incredibly frustrated, and the repetitious nature of their rants and arguments drives home exactly how they feel--the worst you could say about them is they lack subtlety.

"Whereas a film like RACHEL GETTING MARRIED falls apart at the end when it starts to meander, this film works because it sustains one very particular rhythm throughout; for me, the continual slow pace provides a neat counterpoint to those moments when Kechiche suddenly throws in a wry or ironic twist of events into the story.  4 cats"