- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Pornographers, take note: If you throw a little Bach or Vivaldi into the soundtrack, your movies are no longer smut. They become art films. Further, if you work in pseudo-intellectual homages to Nietzsche and the Marquis de Sade, they become high-concept art films.

“Secret Things,” a windy, interminable potboiler from Jean-Claude Brisseau, opens in a Parisian strip club and stays planted in the gutter for another two hours of heavy breathing, Dionysian body pileups and sudsy melodrama.

The movie’s semi-respectable hook is as follows: Nathalie (Coralie Revel) and Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou), both of the working class, conspire to infiltrate the bourgeoisie and prove that men are all manipulable horndogs and women’s natural role is that of the femme fatale — that society is a house of cards.

Drooling beneath its meritocratic surface, we’re all just rutting goats disguised in neckties and pantsuits. To be truly free is to recognize this and harness the will to power; or, at a bare minimum, the will to multiple orgasms.

“Secret Things” isn’t so much a movie as it’s an excuse to watch women make out with each other. It felt like a teenage boy’s fantasy shot through the lens of a sex therapist. (Truthfully, though, I’m still flummoxed by the recurring appearance here of a shadowy, Grim Reaper-type figure on whose arm is perched an eagle, ready to pounce. On whom, or why, I’m at a loss.)

After training young Sandrine in the wily arts of voyeuristic sexuality, oh, what fun they have on the Paris Metro, Nathalie chooses their target: a bank. (Was it a bank? I can’t remember. Who could tell what kind of work was being done, what with all the in-office sex going on?)

They will get jobs; they will flash leg; and they will watch as its male employees turn into blubbering whelps before their seductive eyes. And they will never, ever fall in love. Love is so … bourgeois.

Delacroix (Roger Mirmont), a 50-ish functionary who’s been faithful to his wife of 22 years, crumbles easily. But then our heroines run into a big problem: Christophe (Fabrice Deville), the firm’s young heir apparent.

Christophe is hip to his own bacchanalian mojo, has given up on God and morality and fancies himself the Hugh Hefner of Nietzschean uberdudes. Women have actually self-immolated for this guy. Can the Dionysian Duo resist him despite themselves?

Mr. Brisseau forgets all about his secondary characters. They’re not even written out of the plot; they just disappear and Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” is ripped off for a ridiculously contrived ending.

Then it’s left to Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion” to take us away.

Well, maybe it’ll fool a few cineastes in France.


TITLE: “Secret Things,” exclusively at Landmark’s E Street Cinema

RATING: No MPAA rating (Graphic sexuality and intercourse simulation; frequent nudity; profanity)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau. Produced by Mr. Brisseau and Jean-Francois Geneix. Cinematography by Wilfrid Sempe.

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes, in French with English subtitles.


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