Based on the roman à clef by Philippe Grimbert, a French-Jewish psychoanalyst whose parents committed suicide when he was young, Claude Miller's World War II domestic drama is unusually attentive to the way that the Holocaust disrupted lives that were messy enough to begin with. Not one but two dark family secrets stoke the hyperactive imagination of François (played by two child actors and Mathieu Amalric), the runty, sensitive son of athletic parents (Patrick Bruel and Cécile de France) whose obsession with the body beautiful weirdly echoes—and is warped by—Aryan ideals. Julie Depardieu is outstanding as the whistleblower who breaks the pregnant silence, revealing to the bewildered boy the cracks in his father's first marriage that would erupt into tragedy under the Nazi occupation. Deepened by its complex back-and-forth chronology, deft shifts in perspective, and a significantly counterintuitive color-coding of past and present, A Secret suggests that it's not illicit passion, but rather the crime of denial, that has screwed up this family down the generations. The glibly Freudian conviction that the truth sets us free is less compelling than Miller's evocation of those politically uncommitted Jews who believed that assimilation would save them. But the Germans didn't give a damn, and neither, as the movie's deceptively tranquil coda shows, did their Vichy collaborators.
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