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by Laura G. Brown




[]  Think you've seen enough compelling stories like Sophie's Choice and Schindler's List to cement your hatred of fascism? Already hold a firm commitment to your Second Amendment rights, and stand ready to defend yourself at the drop of a brown shirt? After seeing this lovely, understated drama by director Claude Miller, you'll find your anti-statist views confirmed in a subtle, yet intense way.

A Secret reveals that a crushing stone tossed into the middle of human affairs has a ripple effect extending far beyond its initial damage. The film is based on the life story of novelist Philippe Grimbert, whose parents jumped to their deaths from their Paris apartment more than 20 years ago. Although they left no note, they had been scarred in that they survived the gas chambers while their then-spouses had been killed.

According to an interview with The Guardian's Stuart Jeffries, Grimbert originally intended to call his work The Cemetery of Dogs. He explains that while walking in his Seine-et-Marne neighborhood with his daughter, he came across a dog cemetery with loving inscriptions on the tombstones. He noticed a tombstone for a dog that had belonged to Pierre Laval, the prime minister of Vichy, France -- a man who had cooperated with the Nazis in deporting Jews, especially large numbers of children.




That Laval's dog was honored in death, while his own mother and half brother had no such memorial, outraged Grimbert and resulted in a flurry of memoir writing that led to the book and movie.

A Secret centers on a young boy who feels inadequate next to his godlike parents. His dad is an Olympic-caliber athlete and his mom is a champion swimmer who could give Marilyn Monroe a run for her money. (Throughout the movie, she manages to don form-fitting, skin-baring outfits without making it seeming gratuitous.)

Francois is a pale, wispy imitation of these superior beings, and is keenly aware of it. At age 15, he begins to elicit a gigantic family secret from his aunt, who tells him what happened to his parents a decade earlier in Nazi-occupied France.

The seed of his aunt's revelations grows into a mighty oak of a story, including a half brother whom Francois is never told about, and his parents being drawn together at the same time their spouses were killed in the war. Francois learns he would never have been born if his brother had lived, and that this phantom child exceeded his father's expectations in every way -- a painful contrast to his own experience.



The drama of heartrending events is downplayed at every turn. The director relies on the viewer's intelligence to ascertain the repressed feelings, motives, and guilt of the characters. At the film's pivotal scene, you'll find yourself asking, "How could a mother do that?" How could she put her child in harm's way? San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle suggests that she follows an agonizing path "from innocence to disillusion to an almost fathomless despair and nihilism."

Ludivine Sagnier, who plays the mother, Hannah, earned the equivalent of an Oscar nomination for her role. Hers is just one of many impressive acting performances. The movie is beautifully filmed, with gorgeous costumes and scenes of Paris and the lush countryside. The main beauty, however, lies in the film's ability to capture the simple longing for the presence and influence of loved ones who were cruelly murdered by a perverse regime.



Laura G. Brown is a teacher and writer living in San Gabriel, CA.

She is a veteran candidate for State Assembly on the Libertarian Party of California.

Her email: lauragbrown at sbcglobal dot net


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