In an early episode in the film, a bookish, teenaged François Grimbert (Quentin Dubuis) sits in a classroom intently watching the archival footage of the mass collection and burial of concentration camp victims during the Holocaust, before flying into an inconsolable rage over a student’s racially insensitive comments. For François, the sobering images of emaciated, broken bodies not only raises the specter of his suppressed identity after his parents Anglicized their surname and had him baptized as a Catholic in the aftermath of their untold experience during the war, but also reminds him of his own physical frailty. The son of athletic parents, a ruggedly handsome gymnast and haberdasher named Maxime (Patrick Bruel) and his beautiful, fashion model wife, Tania (Cécile De France), François’s self-consciousness over his own physicality has plagued him since childhood, even imagining that he had an athletic, alter-ego brother who could climb the ropes and execute perfectly controlled turns on the high bar that he could not perform for his demanding father. Even the idea of his parents humoring his fanciful whims for an imaginary brother would prove to be elusive, answered instead with almost desperate re-assertion of their singular existence. It is a gnawing sense of insecurity over his parents’ evasive silence that would continue to consume him until one day when the family’s longtime friend and neighbor, Louise (Julie Depardieu) decides to tell François the story of his parents’ entangled destiny of unreconciled ghosts and memories in the shadows of occupied France. Adapted from the novel Memory (Secret) by Philippe Grimbert, Claude Miller’s Un Secret is an articulate and well-rendered, if occasionally belabored portrait of guilt, transference, and survival. Framed within the context of the now grown François’s (Mathieu Amalric) attempts to find his missing elderly father following the accidental death of the family dog, his search also becomes a metaphoric quest for identity and connection within the silence of a traumatic and dislocated history (a haunted persistence that also evokes integral, recurring themes in Chantal Akerman’s cinema).
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