A lushly staged exercise in cold-blooded sexual intrigue, Jean-Claude Brisseau’s Secret Things is being promoted as the Cahiers du Cinéma Film of 2002. Why not 1902? Secret Things begins with a number that, had it not been shot in color and set to sonorous choral music, would have been the hottest hoochie-coochie dance of the nickelodeon era.
Splayed naked on a divan, the statuesque, sloe-eyed, spotlit Nathalie (Coralie Revel) alternates between slow writhing and fast posing before rapt patrons of a weirdly low-key strip club. Young barmaid Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou) is similarly transfixed with admiration—although she soon crashes to earth once she’s fired for refusing to fuck a customer. Nathalie quits in solidarity, and the exhibitionistic artiste and the gamine team up, prancing around Paris, naked under their trench coats, for empowering acts of daring exposure and public masturbation.
Could Secret Things possibly be a male fantasy? Nathalie and Sandrine take jobs at a Paris bank and set out to become corporate femmes fatales. Sandrine gets her wiles in motion—not to mention her backfield. Wowed by an after-hours display of autoeroticism and fatally distracted by a mid-afternoon office striptease, Sandrine’s fiftyish boss is soon in her thrall. Enter the corporate king of depravity, the bank owner’s son, Christophe (Fabrice Deville); he’s a rakish devil whose idea of foreplay is setting a wad of euros aflame and watching his women burn with desire. All will be permitted when his father dies.
Neil LaBute on his worst day couldn’t devise a scenario so primitive in its psychology and predictable in its sense of sin. But Brisseau effortlessly stages the sort of ooh-la-la orgy that so clearly eluded Stanley Kubrick in Eyes Wide Shut. Is it not fabulous? Are we not amused? Perhaps that smarminess is what gives Secret Things its dubious kick. Once smirky Christophe and his lip-licking soul sister take center stage, the office begins to resemble an 18th-century château of mad libertinage, and the action takes a memorable turn for the porno-risible.