Marie, a 35-year old encyclopaedia salesperson has been happily married to François
for 12 years and has a young son. One day, in the course of her work, she meets
a 50-year old black American, Bill, who lives alone in a luxury villa in Paris.
Without knowing why, Marie is compelled to return to the reclusive American and before
long she is having a passionate love affair with him. Although the relationship
is purely physical and destined to be short-lived, it soon begins to impact on Marie's
professional and family life. Half-suspecting that his wife has been cheating on
him, François can barely contain himself when he sees her body covered with scratches
and love bites...
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
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
© James Travers
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.
Other recommended drama/romance films of the 2000s from France that you may want to consider are: Jean-Pascal Hattu's 7 ans
Anne Le Ny's Ceux qui restent
Arnaud Viard's Clara et moi
Anne Fontaine's Entre ses mains
Jean-Marc Moutout's La Fabrique des sentiments