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