UN SECRET is an epic French true-life story set between the years of 1935 and 1985. It tells the story of how François Grimbert uncovered his family's secret past. We first meet François as a small boy in post-war France. He concocts a romantic tale of how his mother, a glamorous model (Cécile De France) and his father, an talented athlete (Patrick Bruel) met and married. He also concocts an imaginary brother who is as talented and athletic as his father, and can deflect the feeling of inferiority he feels. This issue of the imaginary elder brother provokes his parents, and François turns to family friend Louise (Julie Depardieu) for answers. She tells him the real story of his family and the movie deftly intertwines the pre-war and post-war years with "present day" footage of François and his father.
It turns out that François really did have an elder brother. Before the war, his father, Maxime, was married to Hannah Stirn (Ludivine Sagnier) and they had a son called Simon. When the occupation began, Hannah and her family identified with their fellow Jews, were nervous, and grudgingly wore the yellow star. By contrast, Maxime was as assimilationist. He refused to wear the star, thought the French would never turn on their own, and only fled to the safety of a village in extremis. This conflicting attitude toward racial identity causes conflict between Maxime and Hannah, but the real difficulty is Maxime's strong attraction to his sister-in-law Tania (François' mother). The secret at the heart of the movie concerns how Hannah reacts under the pressure of political terror combined with the fear of losing her husband, and how François' mother and father eventually got together after the war.
UN SECRET is a handsomely produced, intricately constructed, well-acted drama. I was surprised by how well the film-makers managed to keep up suspense and also by just how restrained they had been. The simmering passion between Maxime and Tania is shown by glances rather than crude gestures, (as, indeed, is Louise' homosexuality), and the mental disintegration of Hannah is very subtle - and brilliantly played by Ludivine Sagnier. The only slight mis-tep was a rather bizarre final scene in a pet cemetary and the rather anonymous role for Mathieu Amalric, who barely has anything to do.
UN SECRET was released in 2007 and 2008. It opens in Germany on December 18th and is available on DVD. UN SECRET was nominated for 11 Cesars, of which Julie Depardieu won Best Supporting Actress. It was beaten in most categories by LA MOME and THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY.