Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

One thing I’ve gleaned from my viewings of various French films is the French don’t have many issues in the depictions of sex.  Being a citizen of these here United States this is a bit of different approach, and one that I’m not used to, but becoming accustomed to, mainly due to my increased exposure to French cinema.  This I ask you, is there a more hypocritically puritanical nation than the United States of America?  I’m not suggesting that folks start getting down in the streets, but if things were a little more open, then the things that people do naturally wouldn’t be so shocking.  As an example of our skewed views on things I present this scenario; My wife and I go to the show some years ago to watch Arnold in ‘True Lies’ in a fairly packed movie theater.  I’m sitting next to a mother who bought her son who I imagine is around 10 years old.  Now this is pretty violent movie for a 10 year-old to be at but I’m not trying tell this woman how to raise her kids.  Then comes the scene where Jamie Lee Curtis does the sexy strip dance for her husband.  Then and only then does the mother shields her child’s eyes.  Girlfriend, Arnold smashed a guys head in a urinal, mowed down 250 Arabs with his uzi, blew up a skyscraper with a Harrier and detonated an atomic bomb off the coast of Florida.  But a woman skipping around in her underwear is something you don’t want your son to see?

In French director’s Jean-Claude Brisseau’s ‘Secret Things’ he examines the power that sex can hold, how that power in the right (or wrong) hands can be used to abuse, and what happens when that power is lost.

When we first meet Nathalie (Coralie Revel) she is on stage performing her one woman erotic show.  Blessed physically from head to toe, she has her audience

captivated as she energetically writhes around on stage.  None are more captivated than Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou) who works as a bartender at the club and who observes the show with more than a detached interest.  The club owner for some reason decides that Sandrine should start prostituting herself for his customers, and if she doesn’t she’ll lose her job.  Nathalie stands up for the young woman and advises her that she doesn’t have to anything she doesn’t want to do.  This outburst of girl power gets them both tossed in the street.

Well, being that Sandrine is six months behind on her rent and can’t go home, Nathalie allows her bunk at her place.  There Nathalie begins the process of releasing Sandrine from her inhibitions.  The women find themselves in untenable situation of having no money and no future prospects of getting any aside from stripping and bartending.  What are two women, both young and beautiful, and not slaves to social morality going to do get ahead in this world?  They hatch a plan that requires getting jobs at a large corporation, and using their feminine powers to move up the ladder.  They also make a rule that this is all for personal gain for the team, no time for love in this deal.  The plan works like a charm until they meet Christophe (Fabrice DeVille), the caddish, brutally handsome son of the company owner who plays this game better than these two women could have ever imagined, completely flipping the script on both of them leading to tragic consequences.

This movie is about more than sex, though there’s plenty of it on display.  Brisseau seems to be displaying how women as a whole are unable to separate matters of sex from matters of the heart, and how truly little respect men have for women.  The club owner has such little respect for Sandrine that he fully expects her to prostitute herself.  When the women decide to harness their sexual power, Sandrine seems amazed at how easy it is to manipulate and control most men.  Most, not all.  Cracks in the plan, which is working flawlessly, come from the one you would least expect to fall in love, but fall in love she does, and with a man incapable of emotion.  It seems unreasonable that both women, both flawlessly beautiful, both able use sex to gain whatever they desire would both toss it all away just for the chance to have a man who makes it perfectly clear that his only use for them if for his own personal satisfaction.   Christoph doesn’t even seem to care much for sex, unless it’s with his sister.  Remember, this IS a French film.  Christoph is a man who has such a powerful sexual presence that he caused numerous women to self immolate themselves.  According to Brisseau, love is what all women want.  They can say and do what want, but at the end of the day love is what they want.  And they’d rather suffer for it than have it freely given to them.  Remember also, I didn’t make this movie, I’m just telling you what the man is trying to say.

‘Secret Things’ is a fascinating film that at times is hard to wrap you mind around, but becomes clearer the more you allow the complete and total pathology of Nathalie and Christoph sink in.  Coralie Revel is outstanding as the hardened stripper with the fractured core at the center of this outrageous, borderline pornographic character study.  Since sex in the center of this film, Brisseau doesn’t shrink away from it in the least.  Incest, lesbianism, orgies… it’s all touched on in some form or fashion.  If you don’t mind a frank, in you face expose of sex and the power it gives and a description of those it leaves in its wake, then I highly recommend checking out ‘Secret Things’.

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