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A Secret

A SecretEvery family has A Secret, but most
  are not as complex or as heartbreaking
  as the one Maxime Grimbert tries to

FRENCH CINEMA is known for its beautiful films and
A Secret is no exception with its clever use of black-and-white shots alongside colour and also the sometimes harrowing original archive film that shows the appalling evidence of war crimes from the Second World War period. The film, nominated in 2008 for eleven César Awards — the French equivalent of the Oscars — is now available on DVD.

Writer-director Claude Miller (Little Lil; Class Trip, The Little Thief) brings the adaptation of Philippe Grimbert's bestselling novel to the screen. A Secret revolves around a Jewish family torn apart at the time of the impending German occupation of France during World War II and is a compelling account of a 15-year-old boy who unearths a distressing family secret.

The story spans half a century, beginning in 1985 (in black-and-white) when 37-year-old Parisian François Grimbert (Mathieu Amalric: The Diving Bell And The Butterfly) is told by family friend Louise (Julie Depardieu: A Very Long Engagement) that his elderly father has gone missing after he took his beloved pet Fox Terrier out without a lead and sadly saw the dog run over and killed.

The event triggers François' memories of 1955 (colour) as the introverted and sickly son (played by Valentin Vigourt) of beautiful champion swimmer Tania (Cécile De France: Around The World In 80 Days, Switchblade Romance) and the athletic, good-looking Maxime (Patrick Bruel: El Lobo). Maxime barely tries to disguise his great disappointment in the son who seemed to fail at every turn.

Seven-year-old François walks in the shadow of an imaginary brother who, in his mind, is the son his father really wanted and is better looking, stronger than he is and is capable of overcoming every obstacle to rise above his failures. François dreams constantly of a perfect family.

But his family history is far from perfect and there are secrets to be unravelled — some of which appear to be tied in with a toy dog that François finds in the attic and that provokes a disturbingly hostile reaction from his parents.

In 1962, François is a young teenager and his parents' friend Louise — who works as a masseuse from her salon across the courtyard from the Grimberts' clothing and haberdashery business — finally tells him the truth about his family's past, taking him back to the pre-war Paris of 1936.

François' father Maxime was with his first wife, Hannah Golda Stirn (Ludivine Sagnier: Little Lil, Swimming Pool), and her brother Robert (Robert Plagnol) was then married to Tania, a fashion model.

But dark storm clouds are gathering and Adolph Hitler is gradually rising to power — a terrifying prospect that, along with Maxime's reluctance to acknowledge his Jewish heritage over his Gallic pride, will affect all their lives. Even by fleeing in the early 1940s across the Demarcation Line to the relative security of St Gaultier by no means assures the family's safety and tragedy is about to strike.

A beautifully envisioned and heartfelt film, A Secret also explores one man's search for his identity and his reconciliation with the discovery he makes of his family's tragic past. The film is further endowed with an impressive ensemble cast, led by particularly superb performances from Cécile De France, Patrick Bruel and Julie Depardieu, who earned the 2008 best Supporting Actress César Award for her pivotal role as Louise.

The film also looks at Jewish persecution and the teenaged François is faced with cruelty in the classroom. However, the steadfast love from Louise — who has never married and sees the young boy as a sort of surrogate son — never wavers.

François eventually finds the answers to all his questions. Who was the little boy who once owned the toy dog? And what happened to his father's first wife? A Secret is an exciting film with moments of poignancy, sadness and tragedy; but it is also romantic and beautiful and benefits from a particularly well-chosen cast.

Having garnered four-star reviews in Film Review and The Times during its UK theatrical release earlier this year, and critically acclaimed by the Press, this multi-layered film also features: Nathalie Boutefeu as Esther; Yves Verhoeven as Georges; Yves Jacques as Commandant Beraud; Sam Garbarski as Joseph; Orlando Nicoletti as Simon aged 7; Quentin Dubuis as Francois aged 14; Justine Jouxtel as Rebecca; Chantal Banlier as Maria; Myriam Fuks as Hannah's Mother; Michel Israel as Hannah's Father; and Philippe Grimbert as Le Passeur. Adaptation and Dialogue is by Claude Miller and Natalie Carter; Original Music by Zbigniew Preisner; and Director of Photography is Gérard de Battista.

Based around true events, A Secret will be released on DVD by Arrow Films on 6 October (2008). Certificate 15 | RRP: £17.99.

Check out (Feature Film/World Cinema).

"Haunting, moving and beautifully played!" (4 Stars) — Film Review

"The elegance and intelligence with which Claude Miller marshals his themes makes for a beautiful film… Cécile De France and Patrick Bruel are flawless in performance and looks" — The Times

"…lush and haunting" — The Sunday Telegraph

"…gripping story, extremely well acted" — The Observer

"A Secret is an exciting film with moments of poignancy, sadness and tragedy; but it is also romantic and beautiful and benefits from a particularly well-chosen cast" — MotorBar