Un Secret

How does the authenticity of a story affect our reception of it? Consider that novelists in time gone by referred to their fictions as “histories”, even “true histories”. Meanwhile, today, fraudulent memoirs are held up for bitter condemnation and their authors made into pariahs. In Un Secret, we have a story based on fact — remarkable, brutal fact that has more in common with Greek tragedies than is healthy. In fact, authenticity is thankfully beside the point because the story itself is such a riveting tragedy that one need never excuse it.

Claude Miller’s adaptation relies heavily on flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks. The structure is deftly handled, insofar as it reveals the story with a teasing suspense, but it also adds a sentimentality that is misplaced. There is nothing here to get misty about; the effect should be hollowing for the audience. The performances are strong: Cecile de France is immaculately alluring, Patrick Bruel is aptly built like one of Notre Dame’s buttresses and the fraught eroticism of their relationship is handled with a bristling mix of desire and pain. Ludivine Sagnier touches lightly on the shadow of Medea and Julie Depardieu turns up just to make sure at least one of the family gets a trot. The score is by Zbigniew Preisner, who brings his trademark haunting flute along just in case anyone missed it in Three Colours Blue, and Jacqueline Bouchard’s costumes are beautifully spot on. In the end, the story is extraordinary, the elements quite fine, but the result somewhat prosaic.

Opens May 15 at selected cinemas, check your guides.