Three films: Family secrets, friendship, and romance
Keeping secrets can open a Pandora's Box, as "A Secret," the haunting family drama playing at The Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center on Sunday, July 19, demonstrates. The film is part of the Film Series of the Hebrew Center's Summer Institute, consisting of a selection from the Boston Jewish Film Festival.
Central to this award-winning movie by French director Claude Miller is the way a young boy's fantasy life uncovers the truth. A sickly 7-year-old, Francois (Valentin Vigourt) idolizes his vigorous, athletic parents but feels unloved, especially by his father, Maxime (Patrick Bruel). As many children do, he creates an imaginary playmate, a brother who is all the things he is not. He also fantasizes about what his parents' early life was like.
Using a complex system of flashbacks, some in black and white and some in color along with archival footage, the director reveals over the course of the movie how Francois, as a teenager (Quentin Dubuis) and later as an adult (Mathieu Almaric), comes to learn the full implications of his parents' secret history.
The movie is adapted from a best-selling novel by psychoanalyst Philippe Grimbert, who based it on events that happened in his own family. The book was released in the U.S. as "Memory." But it's doubtful Hollywood would attempt to create a movie out of as nuanced and complex a tale, and American audiences may have trouble keeping straight its many interwoven threads.
The advantage to M. Miller's hard-to-follow storytelling is that he succeeds in creating an almost novelistic sense of family history and character. In the 1930s, the Grimberts belong to a large Jewish family. Some members appreciate the gravity of the encroaching threat of Nazism. Others, less committed to their Jewish heritage, seem almost oblivious to the war clouds gathering over Europe and try to pass as Christians.
By the conclusion of "A Secret," the adult Francois has fit together his family's history with help from a close family friend, Louise (Julie Depardieu) and made peace with it. Thanks to fine acting by a distinguished
French cast, this challenging film brings together French history, forbidden love, and the Holocaust to create the portrait of a Jewish family in France.
Playing at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs on Tuesday, July 21, is the story of an unusual friendship between two very different men living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.