Dr. Donna Copeland’s
ELIZABETH OLSEN OSCAR ISAAC JESSICA LANGE TOM FELTON
How can a film be part drama and romance in the first half, and in the second become a comedy thriller? Honestly, I haven’t seen anything like it. The audience I saw it with thoroughly enjoyed themselves, laughing at bits I felt would surprise even the film makers. It’s hard to know if the latter part of the film was intended to be funny; perhaps it was, but the comedy is non-existent in the beginning of the film, as we actually side with one of the characters. The performances and the characters themselves change so much throughout the course of the film that, by the end, everything rings false. The director Charlie Stratton comes up from television to make his feature film debut, and that’s exactly how the film plays out--like two very different episodes edited together.
When Therese’s father dumps her off with her aunt Madame Raquin (Lange), she is unaware as a child that not only would she become the house maid, but the designated wife of Madame’s ill son Camille (Felton). As the years roll on and she accepts her duties as a wife, the family moves to Paris, away from their sheltered life. Therese (Olsen) is introduced to Camille’s childhood friend Laurent (Isaac), who fills the many voids in her life. As their secret passion grows they see Camille and his neediness as an issue. “Accidents happen every day,” Laurent explains to Therese, who has become a prisoner in her own life and views Laurent as the key to her escape.
The irony of the film, which opens with stunning cinematography in the French countryside with expansive fields, running water and blue skies, is that Therese is so isolated and confined there. Yet when they move to the city where open spaces are few, light is scare and she is stuck all day inside a grey shop and house, she feels more free. The novel and the screenplay paint such a stark contrast between the two men in her life: Camille can’t make love without shivering, sniffling and exhausting himself, while Laurent never tires of conversation, adventure and Therese’s body.
The film sways the audience back and forth to which characters to feel sympathy for, and it’s a bit manipulative. When Camille explains to Laurent that he, too should take a wife, explaining “then you will have your own portable pillow”, he commands Therese to sit beside him using her as a pillow. The elements of foreshadowing I really liked, from the opening shot underneath the water to the grotesque painting Laurent delivers of Camille and the talk of visiting morgues. The film certainly grows darker and more ridiculous with each minute; however, I did quite enjoy the latter part of Lange’s performance, without giving anything away.
Final Thought – Too much laughter where there shouldn’t be any.
By: Dustin Chase
This intelligently written film keeps the viewer guessing every step of the way; the characters repeatedly do what’s not expected, making the story twist and turn, starting from a very dark period-looking place to one of mystery, and, finally, to comic relief. I smile at the title, “In Secret”, since almost everything is right in front of the viewer the whole time, except, notably, scenes of the most important action, which are only revealed later.
Therese is a very young girl unceremoniously dropped off by her father at his sister’s house. He and his daughter have been living in Africa (the mother is dead), but he deems she needs a mother, so hands her over to his sister, who is none too pleased; she has her hands full with her own sickly son. The years go by, and eventually she begins to care for the girl because of her quietness and willingness to help. Significantly, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange) is seen embroidering on a fabric the words, “Don’t make a sound. Keep quiet.” The girl Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) learns and adapts quickly, and helps the woman with her son Camille (Tom Felton), who has a persistent cough and tires easily. When Therese and Camille are older, Camille decides he wants to go to Paris for a job recommended to him, and he and his mother inform Therese that before they go, he and Therese will be married. Madame Raquin will set up a shop, and Therese will assist her.
Therese, who has never had a chance to develop even a modicum of experience in making decisions, acquiesces, even though she seems horrified underneath. Although her “husband” is not a simpleton, it seems clear he will always remain a child attached to his mother, innocent of any sexual experience. She, on the other hand, is passionate in her nature. Nevertheless, Paris is a success in the sense that Camille is happy in his job, the shop is bustling, and they make friends. Therese is bored much of the time until Camille meets an old friend from their hometown at work and proudly brings him home. Of course, that is where the plot thickens, but I won’t say any more, because much of the delights of this film are the surprising turns of plot.
Charlie Stratton, the writer/director collaborated with Neal Bell on the screenplay, based on Bell’s play with the same title, both of which are drawn from an Emile Zola novel and play entitled Therese Requin. The cleverness of the work rests on the naturalistic picture of human beings of different types, and how those types interact with one another. For instance, Laurent reacts to Therese’s guilt over something they have done, and the interaction produces its own effect on both of them.
Elizabeth Olsen again proves her acting chops by nailing the Therese character, with fine nuances in her facial expressions revealing the emotions surging through her. She and Jessica Lange expertly play off one another in the changing qualities of their relationship, and Lange pulls off radical changes she must convey across time. Another up-and-coming actor like Olsen is Oscar Isaac, who is ever so subtle in his portrayal of an ambiguous character. Tom Felton as Camille shows his talent in achieving the fine difference between a born simpleton and an egocentric man spoiled by his mother. The ensemble surrounding these main characters are also exceptional.
An alternative title of this film could be “The Ravages of Guilt”; see what happens when people are stuck in it and cannot—or choose not to—escape. It is especially poignant when relatively unpracticed, naïve people are its subjects.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland