Le Secret (2000)
aka: The Secret
A film directed by Virginie Wagon

Genre: Drama / Romance

Film Review

Le Secret photo
The story of a married woman's mid-life crisis and drift into infidelity is not the most original of subjects (particularly in French cinema) but Virginie Wagon, in her first full-length film, tackles the subject with fresh insight and laudable subtlety. The explicit nature of the love scenes lend the film an erotic subtext, but this is far from being a tawdry piece of eroticism of the shamelessly exploitative Emmanuelle variety. Le Secret manages to be a serious character-based drama, which is primarily concerned with a woman's need to make sense of her life as she approaches middle-age.

The film's casting is impeccable and easily compensates for deficiencies in other areas. Anne Coesens gives a convincing portrayal of a woman who appears to have everything but who is actually trapped in a life without excitement or surprise. Every day, Marie goes through a similar kind of pre-rehearsed performance in her married life that she has to use in her job as a door-to-door salesperson. It is only when she meets Bill - a totally liberated individual with a god-like physique - that she realises this and thereby finds a way out of her meaningless ordered existence.   The charismatic Tony Todd is perfectly cast as Marie's secret lover Bill - his scenes with Anne Coesens are sexy and electrifying, leaving us in no doubt as to where their two characters are heading. In his portrayal as the cheated husband François, Michel Bompoil is the film's most sympathetic (and possibly complex) character, his performance keenly illustrating the destructive effect that an extra-marital affair can have on the relationship between husband and wife.

Prior to this film, Virginie Wagon collaborated with director Erick Zonca on some of his films, notably La Vie rêvée des anges (1998). Zonca returned the favour by helping out Wagon with the script and artistic design of Le Secret. Zonca's influence can be seen both in the tone of the film (which has a sombre realism) and the intense focus on its central character. The film does not explain fully why the characters behave as they do - indeed they remain something of a mystery throughout. However, it gives enough away for us to make our own guesses and form our own judgement without explicitly telling us which characters we should most sympathise with.

If the film has a fault it is that it feels too restrained, too cautious, in too many key scenes. The impact on Marie of her double life isn't really apparent until quite late into the film and this was presumably intended to fit with the film's title - Marie is working so hard to keep her affair a secret that she has to hold back her emotions for as long as she can. The trouble is that you would expect the longer Marie bottles up her feelings, the more spectacular will be the outburst when she finally has to come clean. We expect the denouement to be a raging inferno and what we get is more like a spluttering camp fire. This may have been intentional but it doesn't fit with our expectations and, as a result, we have a right to feel slightly cheated by the film's rather muted ending. However, in spite of that, there is still a great deal to like about this film and it surely marks a promising directoral debut for Virginie Wagon.
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Marie, a 35-year old encyclopaedia salesperson has been happily married to François for 12 years and has a young son...
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Film Credits

Directed by Virginie Wagon
Starring: Anne Coesens, Michel Bompoil, Tony Todd, Quentin Rossi, Jacqueline Jehanneuf, Aladin Reibel, Valérie Vogt, Frédéric Sauzay, Natalya Ermilova, Charlotte Pradon
[Read more...]

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