The se­cret his­tory boy

The truth be­hind how a Jewish fam­ily sur­vived the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of Paris is re­vealed in a com­pelling drama

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

A SE­CRET

(PG)

PHILIPPE GRIM­BERT’S well-re­ceived 2004 au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel Se­cret cen­tred on a Parisian Jewish fam­ily suf­fer­ing un­speak­able strain dur­ing the Sec­ond World War Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion of France.

Now the novel has been sen­si­tively adapted for the screen by di­rec­tor Claude Miller (with Natalie Carter) and trans­formed into com­pelling, beau­ti­fully played drama.

Miller turns film­mak­ing con­ven­tion around by film­ing scenes set in 1985 in black and white and stag­ing the pri­mary se­quences set in the 1940s in colour. The de­vice en­hances the emo­tional story of soli­tary 14-year-old Fran­cois (Quentin Dubuis), who in­vents a smarter brother for him­self and imag­ines his par­ents’ ro­man­ti­cised past. Un­til, on his 15th birth­day, a friend tells Fran­cois the truth about the lives of his par­ents un­der the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion, shat­ter­ing his utopian vi­sions.

Syn­op­sis can­not do jus­tice to Miller’s mov­ing and provoca­tive story. The se­cret emerges, trans­form­ing Fran­cois’s self-im­age and eras­ing his feel­ings of in­ad­e­quacy when faced by his ath­letic fa­ther Maxime (Pa­trick Bruel).

Scene af­ter scene hits hard, no­tably the se­quence when young Fran­cois un­der­stand­ably loses con­trol while hav­ing to watch at school news­reel footage of con­cen­tra­tion camp vic­tims.

Fine per­for­mances come from Mathieu Al­maric as the adult Fran­cois and Ce­cile de France as his swim­ming cham­pion mother. Strong sup­port from Li­dovine Sag­nier and Julie Depar­dieu adds depth to Jewish di­rec­tor Miller’s mov­ing sto­ry­telling.

Says Miller: “I was born in 1942. There weren’t many [Holo­caust] sur­vivors in my fam­ily — most of my un­cles, aunts and grand­par­ents didn’t come back from the con­cen­tra­tion camps. As a boy, then a teenager I was trau­ma­tised, I was haunted by this trau­ma­tis­ing, stress­ful story.”

It is to his con­sid­er­able credit that he has trans­muted his per­sonal trauma into such an ac­ces­si­ble — and haunt­ing — a story.

I SERVED THE KING OF ENG­LAND

(15)

A RE­FRESH­ING cyn­i­cism per­vades Czech di­rec­tor Jiri Men­zel’s satir­i­cal black com­edy. It is an approach that even suc­ceeds in mak­ing palat­able his diminu­tive hero Dite’s mar­riage to a Nazi sym­pa­thiser af­ter hav­ing to prove his suit­abil­ity to wed by con­ve­niently dis­cov­er­ing his own Ger­man back­ground, and then hav­ing her gaze at a por­trait of Hitler dur­ing their wed­ding night.

Men­zel, adapt­ing Bo­hu­mil Hra­bal’s novel, tells the story of the rise and fall of Dite (Ivan Barnev) from keen-to-suc­ceed-at-any-cost waiter in 1930s Prague to hote­lier, who ends up serv­ing 15 years in prison af­ter he is jailed by the Com­mu­nists in post-war Cze­choslo­vakia.

Dite’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to make ser­vice, how­ever servile, pay makes him a skil­ful waiter, adept at pro­vid­ing what­ever ser­vices his wealthy guests ask for. It also en­ables him to sur­vive the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion, con­tin­u­ing to work at a ho­tel which has been trans­formed into a breed­ing cen­tre for per­fect Aryans.

Barnev gives a mag­nif­i­cently fullof-life, un-self-pity­ing quasi-comic per­for­mance that makes his char­ac­ter strangely en­dear­ing even at his most ma­nip­u­la­tive.

While Men­zel never makes the mis­take of mak­ing Nazi ex­cesses ac­cept­able, his sar­donic treat­ment — mock­ing the Nazis as acidly, if less bois­ter­ously than Mel Brooks did in The Pro­duc­ers — hits hard.

Men­zel’s por­trait of Dite’s con­tin­u­ing re­silience both cel­e­brates his na­tion while at the same time mak­ing the es­sen­tially Czech satire ac­ces­si­ble to cin­ema au­di­ences ev­ery­where.

WHATHAP­PENSINVE­GAS

(12A)

WHAT HAP­PENS in Ve­gas stays in Ve­gas, as the say­ing goes. Not for Jack (Ash­ton Kutcher) and Joy (Cameron Diaz) in this en­ter­tain­ing screw­ball com­edy, cun­ningly cre­ated with younger mul­ti­plex film­go­ers in mind.

The cou­ple — he’s a slacker, she’s “aw­fully hos­tile for a girl named Joy”, as some­one re­marks sagely — meet in the Ne­vada gam­bling cap­i­tal where Joy is drown­ing her sor­rows hav­ing been dumped by her boyfriend. They drink to ex­cess, marry in haste and then win a for­tune.

But the cold truths re­vealed by so­bri­ety do not prove to be grounds for an an­nul­ment, and the sit­u­a­tion is amus­ingly com­pli­cated by a judge who sen­tences them to con­tinue their mar­riage for six months be­fore he will con­sider end­ing it and rule on who will walk off with the win­nings.

Ob­vi­ously only movie vir­gins could fail to fore­see the dé­noue­ment as Jack and Joy con­tinue to spar in close dis­com­fort in their shared apart­ment.

Hap­pily, fore­knowl­edge of the finale does not mat­ter. The leads are at­trac­tive and screen­writer Dana Fox’s di­a­logue sparkles with snappy lines.

Kutcher and Diaz clearly en­joy their blithe spar­ring and in­fec­tiously trans­mit that en­joy­ment to the au­di­ence, while di­rec­tor Tom Vaughan keeps the bat­tle-of-the-sexes com­edy light and sat­is­fy­ing.

CASH­BACK

(15)

WRITER-DI­REC­TOR SEAN El­lis has very en­joy­ably ex­panded his prize-win­ning short film into an off­beat fan­ta­sy­com­edy fea­ture.

Art stu­dent Ben Wil­lis (Sean Big­ger­staff) is so dis­traught when his girl­friend leaves him that he falls vic­tim to chronic in­som­nia. Re­solv­ing to make use of his ex­tra eight hours of wake­ful­ness, he goes to work the night shift at Sains­bury’s.

El­lis ex­tracts a sur­pris­ing amount of gen­tle com­edy from Ben’s of­ten sur­real ad­ven­tures, which are com­pounded by his abil­ity to stop time at will, al­low­ing him to move among his frozen fel­low work­ers and the cus­tomers.

El­lis has a wry eye for char­ac­ter — the su­per­mar­ket is pop­u­lated by a variety of en­gag­ingly ec­cen­tric peo­ple that might well en­gen­der envy in, say, Ricky Ger­vais and Stephen Mer­chant of The Of­fice fame — while his dry di­a­logue makes the most of the slen­der comin­gof-age ro­man­tic nar­ra­tive.

Big­ger­staff and Emilia Fox’s check­out girl make cred­i­bly hes­i­tant lovers and the odd­ball sup­port­ing play­ers, headed by Stu­art Good­man’s con­trol freak man­ager, are ex­cel­lent value. So, too, is the film.

SPEED RACER

(PG)

YOUNG­STERS IN­URED to video games and television car­toon id­io­cies should en­joy the vis­ceral im­pact of this sim­plis­tic and painfully noisy, ex­ces­sively-flashy orgy of spe­cial ef­fects.

Rac­ing driver Emile Hirsch bat­tles to win an all-out race to re­deem his fam­ily’s hon­our and avenge his brother’s death.

The fre­quently in­com­pre­hen­si­ble plot is sim­ply a peg for os­ten­ta­tious movie magic cre­ated at the be­hest of writer-di­rec­tor-pro­duc­ers Wa­chowski Brothers (the pair be­hind the Ma­trix tril­ogy).

John Good­man and Susan Saran­don (slum­ming it in a 1950s-style hairdo) join in valiantly. Sheer vol­ume makes it ideal for the hard of hear­ing. Oth­er­wise, you have been warned.

Young Fran­cois (Quentin Dubuis) dis­cov­ers dis­turb­ing facts about his fa­ther (Pa­trick Bruel) in A Se­cret

Vow fac­tor: Cameron Diaz and Ash­ton Kutcher in What Hap­pens in Ve­gas

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