‘The Secret Life of Words’


Unsmiling, pathologically private, and all but wordless, deaf factory girl Hanna (Sarah Polley) uses an enforced vacation to volunteer as a nurse on an oil rig in the Irish Sea, where she tends to Josef (Tim Robbins), a badly burned worker with enough fight left in him to flirt with his enigmatic attendant and try to coax her out of her strategic silence. Spanish writer-director Isabel Coixet appears to have made a close study of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves: What pleasure there is to be wrung from the exceptionally banal. The Secret Life of Words lies in the harsh, unforgiving beauty and wonderfully strange social life of the isolated rig. In due course skeletons will march out of closets, but the movie yields up its secrets with slow reluctance. Which is just as well, since the nagging voices in Hanna and Josef’s heads force their way out to reveal inner lives as attenuated and silly as those in Coixet’s 2003 My Life Without Me, which made similarly scant use of Polley’s prodigious talent.