Choses secrètes Review
Choses secrètes Jean-Claude Brisseau’s first film to gain UK distribution since 1989’s Noce blanche, is a difficult work to get a handle on. Just when you think you’ve got it pegged, it mutates into something else. And yet this only serves to make it all the more interesting; not only is there an air of unpredictability, but there’s also a lack of complacency which is genuinely appealing. Indeed, whilst we may recollect elements from, say, Baise moi or even one of Polanski’s psychodramas in its narrative, or detect a role reversal of Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men, such comparisons don’t to the film just as they can only go so far.
As such it is best to consider Choses secrètes as a series of balancing acts. The film begins with its two female protagonists getting acquainted; as we meet them one is performing in a sex show, whilst the other is a barmaid. Soon they assume the roles of teacher and pupil, with the younger learning to use her sexuality to her advantage. At first this manifests itself in a series of games and dares – various forms of exhibitionism including discreet public masturbation – which imbue Choses secrètes with a lighter touch. But once they decide to use their femininity as a means of snaring makes purely to humiliate them, the darker undertones begin to seep through. Yet the tonal transition isn’t quite as smooth as this would suggest – the film also blends into an office comedy of manners – and as such Brisseau is able to carefully switch between the two.
Moreover, Choses secrètes is also able to meander between the warmth of its performances (particularly Sabrina Seyvecou as the younger of the two women) and the clinical nature of its visual style. The film has met with comparisons to both Luis Buñuel and Stanley Kubrick, both of which are understandable. There are certain narrative affinities with Tristana and That Obscure Object of Desire from the former and the latter’s Eyes Wide Shut, yet more telling is the manner in which Brisseau apes their precision. Indeed, when it breaks into more overt Grand Guignol territory or lapses perilously close to porn (both of which are themselves counterbalanced by the film’s more ordinary aspects), we never doubt Brisseau’s intentions. Stylistically at least, he’s forever giving the impression that he’s fully in charge.
It’s a confidence which is also detectable in the sheer boldness of the project. There are some peculiar, not to mention chilling, scenes in which the grim reaper appears, whilst the final act heads into some very strange territory indeed. Once of the girls’ targets comes across as a preening Bond villain, has a bizarre family history and masterminds a huge (partially incestuous) orgy to celebrate his marriage (hence, presumably, the Eyes Wide Shut comparisons). With this comes a more overt dalliance with melodrama than has come before – especially as the film has looked as though it’s going to turn into a heavily constructed, twist-ridden House of Games-style conundrum – which may cause some viewers to either switch off or severely lose patience. Indeed, Choses secrètes has attracted much attention in this area for going a shift too far, yet more problematic is the fact that given the overall outré narrative it’s difficult to decide as to just how successful it is – and much can be said of the film as a whole. That said, it is an experience and as such demanding of multiple viewings.
The latest in Tartan’s “Ciné Lumière” collection, Choses secrètes comes to the UK DVD market in decent, if hugely impressive form. We get the film in its original Academy ratio – and therefore non-anamorphically presented – and it looks reasonable enough. The colours are strong, but the image doesn’t always look quite as clear as it could and there is evidence of artefacting. That said, the film is by no means unwatchable and the image quality is far more impressive than the soundtrack offering. Here we get the French dialogue with optional English subtitles, albeit in the form of a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix as opposed to the original DTS. Had this been a minor DVD label releasing Choses secrètes then perhaps this would have been understandable. Yet given that Tartan often include DTS mixes on their releases, however unnecessary, this comes across as especially disappointing. To be honest, the DD2.0 mix is fine and copes well with both score and dialogue, but the lack of the original should not be overlooked. As for extras, these simply compound problems by amounting simply to the original theatrical trailer and a trailer reel for other Tartan releases.