Un secret (2007)
aka: A Secret
A film directed by Claude Miller

Genre: Drama / Romance / War

Film Review

Un secret photo
The trauma of childhood is a recurring theme in the cinema of director Claude Miller and in Un secret he revisits his own turbulent childhood in Nazi occupied France during WWII. Adapted from an award-winning autobiographical novel by Philippe Grimbert, the film follows the fortunes of a Jewish family during the occupation, through the eyes of a character who might well be Miller's alter ego. The father of the main character (played by Patrick Bruel) has much in common with Miller's - both were conflicted over their Jewish identity and both refused to wear the yellow star badge which the Nazis insisted be worn at all times by Jews before they were rounded up and shipped to the death camps. Claude Miller himself only escaped the Holocaust by his father's refusal to wear the yellow star. Un secret is understandably one of Miller's most personal films, although it is somewhat marred by the director's increasing preoccupation with stylisation, which renders the film needlessly arty in places.

Grimbert's excellent novel offers a compelling tale of love, betrayal and identity under the Nazi Occupation, but Miller manages to reduce it to a pretty soap-style saga, losing much of the darkness and bitter irony of Grimbert's book. An overly complex narrative structure, which attempts to weave together three time frames, weakens the film's coherence and emotional intensity, and you can't help wondering that the film might have had more power if the present-day sequences had been excised, or at least reduced to a short coda. Recently, there has been a veritable spate of films in France about the Holocaust and Un secret does little to make it stand out from the crowd.

On the plus side, Un secret is attractively shot and boasts a superb cast that includes such talented performers as Cécile De France, Patrick Bruel, Ludivine Sagnier, Julie Depardieu and Mathieu Amalric. Owing mainly to some lacklustre screenwriting, most of the characters are woefully two-dimensional and struggle to engage our sympathies - the two exceptions being those played by Ludivine Sagnier and Julie Depardieu, who are both (as ever) devastatingly convincing in their respective roles. Sagnier's character is particularly interesting and her motivations for her self-destructive act of betrayal (or is it a supreme act of love?) are very subtly revealed by the actress, in a way that renders an otherwise pretty meaningless film highly meaningful and profoundly shocking.

Although critical reaction to Un secret on its first release was very mixed, it proved to be a box office success, attracting an audience of 1.7 million in France. It also notched up an impressive tally of eleven nominations for the 2008 Césars, in categories that included Best Director, Best Film, Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay. Bizarrely, the film received only one César, for Best Supporting Actress, which went to Julie Depardieu (a baffling result as Sagnier's performance is so obviously more worthy of an award). Whilst Un secret is by no means Claude Miller's best film and whilst it is weakened by some unfortunate stylistic decisions, it still manages to be an engaging period piece, one which relates a story of love turned sour that is as moving as it is disturbing.
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and is protected by copyright. No part of it should be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.

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Film Credits

Directed by Claude Miller
Starring: Cécile De France, Patrick Bruel, Ludivine Sagnier, Julie Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric, Nathalie Boutefeu, Yves Verhoeven, Yves Jacques, Sam Garbarski, Orlando Nicoletti
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