Review: Un secret (2007)

Directed by: Claude Miller | 105 minutes | drama | Actors: Cécile De France, Patrick Bruel, Ludivine Sagnier, Julie Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric, Nathalie Boutefeuille, Yves Verhoeven, Yves Jacques, Sam Garbarski, Orlando Nicoletti, Valentin Vigourt, Quentin Dubuis, Myriam Fuks, Robert Plagnol, Michel Israel

‘Un secret’ is the adaptation of the bestseller of the same name by Phillipe Grimbert, who himself guest-stars as a human smuggler. In the novel he tells the story of his parents, the protagonist François is his alter ego.

It’s not an overly penetrating film, at least not in form. No overly dramatic scenes, no bombastic music, very earthy, it is the way it is. And that’s why the drama works well, the story comes across well. A gripping story, yes. A story that resembles many stories from that time, but again not: the period that has already been widely reported in Germany and still is cinematographically, yielded few films in France. People don’t seem to be waiting for it, perhaps because of shame. Not surprising, because quite a few Jews have also been deported from France and anti-Semitism has traditionally been rampant. Time to accept the past?

No heavy black boots in this film, no soldiers on the street, no swastikas, no typical war scenes, not even Germans. Director Claude Miller knows how to circumvent it all carefully, without giving you the feeling that the war ‘doesn’t matter’. It just shows what he is all about: the personal drama, in which the war plays a decisive factor, but not the leading role. In the art direction, the image of the time could have been a bit more pronounced, precisely because the tanks and war acts are missing.

The fact of the imaginary brother is beautiful. It symbolizes exactly what François himself cannot do and thus fills the gap in his young life. Moreover, the phantom brother lifts the tip of the veil of the secret that controls his life more than he realizes. That harrowing secret trickles down into the story, which is cleverly put together.

Patrick Bruel is a kind of French Frank Sinatra, who, in addition to a glorious music career, also made a career as an actor and has built up an impressive film repertoire. He plays François’ father and does this convincingly. The rest of the cast is also not much to criticize. Julie Depardieu (yes, daughter of) was the only one who managed to cash in on one of the eight Césars (French Oscars) for which the film was nominated, with her role as François’ athletic mother.

As mentioned, the film indirectly confronts the French with the question: “where were you then …?”, But not too harshly. In the end there is nevertheless the conclusion that it was the Nazis who murdered the Jewish fellow citizens and no one else. Either way, Miller delivers a beautiful personal drama that makes you think about both the personal relationships and the context in which they were maintained. And that without literally portraying any violence of war (except for short documentary images from a camp). Well done.

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