A psychologically astute and sexually explicit drama about a married woman who embarks on an anonymous affair, Le Secret is reminiscent of Bernardo Bertolucci’s classic Last Tango in Paris and also shares some concerns with Patrice Chereau’s new film Intimacy. What distinguishes Virginie Wagnon’s directorial debut is its focus on a female character. Wagnon, who co-scripted Erick Zonca’s The Dream Life of Angels, continues that earlier film’s exploration of the darker reaches of the female psyche. At the same time, she opts for a more relaxed and elegant style than Zonca’s grainy, hand-held camerawork, which has fast become one of the more tiresome cliches of French cinema.
At the centre of Wagnon’s sober and restrained film is an outstanding performance by Anne Coesens as Marie, an apparently well-adjusted wife and mother who enjoys her job selling encyclopaedias. The first signs of discontent come to the surface when husband François (Michel Bompoil) begins to push for the couple to have a second child. Marie resists and pretty soon she begins a torrid sexual affair with Bill (Tony Todd), an African-American choreographer living in Paris. Clearly in the throes of forces she cannot control, Marie is horrified by her own behaviour but makes no attempt to conceal anything from her distraught husband.
The ensuing difficulties faced by both Marie and her husband are treated with sympathy and restraint by Wagnon as she traces their struggles with jealousy and obsession. Interestingly, Marie’s sexual dalliance is seen as a necessary if difficult attempt at liberation, and one that the couple can survive once they overcome the repressive strictures of bourgeois marriage.
France, 2000.English subtitles.Colour.Dolby stereo SR.107 mins.