Based on a true story, the French language film 'Un Secret' tells the story of a teenage boy who discovers a shocking secret about his Jewish family during World War II. Don't turn away just yet thinking you've seen and heard it all before - unless you've read the novel by Philippe Grimbert, you probably haven't.
Instead of focusing wholly on the usual horrifying images of this war, director Claude Miller uses them as a backdrop to tell the Grinberg family's story in his adaptation of the novel.
The film focuses on the narrator François, (Vigourt/Dubuis/Amalric) who we first meet as a young sickly-thin boy. He is being crushed by the weight of a family secret which no one is willing, or able, to lift until years later. Despite notable academic achievements, his father shuns him due to his lack of athletic ability.
'La Classe de Neige' director Miller has a unique style which is evident again here. His flashbacks are told in colour and the present, in black and white. Other film nuances that Miller has injected include a rich palate of colour, which transports you back in time to Paris and France of the 1940s with ease. He also presents the French capital in an atypical way, leaving all views of the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysées to one side, in favour of the cobbled streets, beautiful tenement buildings and the overall ambience of the city.
He humanises this family's struggle, through a series of romances and infidelities, jealousy, fear and love. The idea being that when they hit, the tragedies should have enormous impact, defusing the fact that the outcome and horror of this war are known, making the journey the compelling factor. That was the idea; however the reality was not so compelling. The emotion oozing from every subplot somehow got lost in translation, leaving the drama stiff and lacking a pulse.
As noble as the film may be in the retelling of this important story, it’s the strong performances that pull it back from the edge before smashing into a stringent mess or worse, Sunday afternoon TV fodder.
Berlin Silver Bear winner Ludivine Sagnier is gripping as the troubled centrepiece. Its little wonder César winner Cécile De France is the toast of France, the 'Around the world in 80 days' actress has a rare yet abundant mix of beauty and talent. Her on-screen husband, Patrick Bruel is equally beguiling. Gérard Depardieu's daughter Julie created the key character in Louise, nicely linking the two time periods.
Philippe Grimbert's family secret is gripping but despite strong performances, the film is not.