At a time when directors seem increasingly split between two camps—shameless purveyors of blockbusters and niche-bound auteurs—France’s Claude Miller (Alias Betty) belongs to a rapidly shrinking species: that of elegant commercial filmmakers. A Secret may be his best effort yet, a throwback to an era when studios made star-laden, period melodramas that balanced sentiment and weighty issues in the name of entertainment.
A Secret fleshes out its source, Philippe Grimbert’s slim autobiographical novel, Memory, but the film, toggling back and forth between various periods from the mid-’30s to the mid-’80s, never feels padded. As 15-year-old Simon slowly discovers what happened to his parents (De France, Bruel) in pre-WWII France, before he was born, Miller deftly weaves thorny subjects such as the construction of identity (particularly a Jewish one) and the lies that bind. The actors project effortless star power, particularly de France, more radiant than ever as the athletic Tania, but it’s Ludivine Sagnier who provides A Secret’s tortured core. When her mousy Hannah makes the crucial decision upon which the film hangs, she’s guided not so much by lofty principles as by oh-so-human jealousy. It’s a testament to Miller’s skills that Hannah’s choice is both absurd and understandable.
Cast and crew
Cécile de France