Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Semi-Secret Lesbian in "A Secret"

Julie Depardieu tends to Quentin Dubuis in "A Secret"

I don't recommend you seek out Claude Miller's Holocaust drama "A Secret" for its lesbian content, which is virtually nil, or for any other reason. The story of François, a young French boy who was born to Jewish parents in the 1940s and spent his childhood convinced he was competing against a "phantom brother," it's a handsomely made film that shows little interest in most of its characters (when Ludivine Sagnier hardly registers as a presence in a film, you know something isn't right) or, ultimately, anything that happened to them. (It also skips between the '40s and '50s and the 1980s somewhat hokily; the black and white scenes with Mathieu Amalric as the adult François are nice to look -- until they take on the appearance of perfume ads, with the emotional depth to match.)

But one of its characters is a lesbian, which I hadn't seen mentioned in any of the reviews I read prior to renting it, so I thought I'd mention it here for those of you who keep tabs on these things. That character, Louise (played winningly by Julie Depardieu), a massage therapist and long-time friend of François' family, is in some ways the emotional heart of the film: It is Louise, not his mother, who François runs to for comfort in times of distress, and it is Louise who eventually answers his questions about the past.

Not much is made of her orientation, which is first hinted at when a 7-year-old François asks why she doesn't have a husband and her response suggests she'd simply have no use for one; in a later scene that serves no purpose other than to illustrate that she does have a personal life, she greets a smiling female acquaintance on the street and leads her into her apartment. (She also, in a minor but noticeable touch, sometimes wears pants while the women around her are in dresses.) Louise's defining moment comes during a heated exchange with Esther, a character who believes the husband of a woman who was taken away by the Germans is cheating on his absent wife:
Esther: Doesn't it make you sick?

Louise: I've seen worse.

Esther: You say that because you also...

Louise: Go on, say it. I also think Tania's desirable? It's true. She's beautiful and desirable.

Esther: So you excuse them?

Louise: No, I just don't judge them.
Louise is able to calm Esther; her gentleness and pragmatism has that effect on everyone. She is an interesting supporting character who would have been even more interesting in a better movie.

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