out of Five
Running time: 105
Engaging wartime drama that pulls off a bold narrative shift, thanks to impressive direction and superb performances from a talented ensemble cast.
What's it all about?
Directed by Claude Miller, A Secret (or Un Secret, if you want to be a purist about original titles) stars Quentin Dubuis as Francois, a Parisian teenager in 1955, who begins to uncover a dark secret that his parents (Cecile De France and Patrick Bruel) have kept hidden since the war. We also see Francois coping with his parents as an adult (now played by Mathieu Amalric), in black and white present day sequences, though the majority of the film switches to wartime flashbacks once the foundation of the secret is revealed.
Calling the film A Secret was a smart move, because it means you spend the first hour of the film desperately trying to work out what the secret might be. This allows for a subtle shift in focus away from Francois (ostensibly the main character), which might have derailed a lesser film – indeed, Dubuis practically disappears once Julie Depardieu (as a close family friend) starts to spill the beans.
The performances are excellent, particularly Patrick Bruel and Cecile De France, who have genuine chemistry together – the scenes where they first get together are fraught with emotional tension. Dubuis and Valentin Vigourt (who plays Francois as an insecure 7-year-old) are both terrific, while there's strong support from both Julie Depardieu and Ludivine Sagnier.
Miller handles the complex script well, gradually revealing a little more of the story with each flashback so that the pieces gradually fit together in a way that is simultaneously satisfying and heart-breaking. As a result there are some superbly suspenseful sequences, particularly when the Nazi occupation begins. That said, the black and white sequences don't really add anything profound to the story and the coda in the pet cemetery could probably have been dropped.
In short, A Secret is an emotionally gripping drama with strong performances and impressive direction throughout. Highly recommended.