Secret Things (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★
Nathalie (Coralie Revel) and Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou) work in a strip joint, the former being one of the performers and the latter a bartender. After they get fired for having the courage to stand up to their boss, Nathalie invites Sandrine to stay at her apartment. Sandrine expresses her gratitude and, after a couple of drinks, confesses to Nathalie how much she is fascinated by her—not necessarily in a romantic way but in terms of how much power she has over men. Soon, Nathalie strives to teach what she knows to her new friend.
“Choses secrètes” has a comfortable attitude about sex. Specifically, how it can be used to manipulate men into getting what women want. In order to connect with it, we must be comfortable with its daring ideas on some level. And yet it is meant to be an empty experience, I think, because everyone is or learns to be a manipulator. What Nathalie and Sandrine have with men are amusing and cruel but dangerous and exciting at times. One even gets the feeling that what the two women share is tenuous even when they seem to share so much with one another.
The scenes involving explicit sex—two women, a man and a woman, threesomes, masturbation—are impressively acted. Seyvecou is especially magnetic because her character undergoes a believable change from a naive and shy little thing to someone who really knows how to play the game. It is interesting in that she allows us to get to know her character but only up to a point. Over time, it is increasingly more difficult to read what is going on in Sandrine’s head. There is a scene in the beginning in which she pleasures herself in front of Nathalie. After she has reached a climax, she asks her friend is she thinks the orgasm is faked. That is the foundation of the story.
The camera commands an eerie stillness that at times it is almost uncomfortable. It seems to stare at one person touching herself or couples sharing something that is supposed to be intimate. I do not consider it pornographic for two reasons: the nudity and sex are integrated to the story’s sexual politics and I was not titillated by it. On the contrary, it tends to highlight the beauty of a woman’s body, how people can be drawn to it and want to be with it. I was more curious in trying to figure out the repercussions of a character sleeping with another or how someone discovering a conspiracy changes the game. It is cerebral rather than sensual.
The three men in Sandrine’s education in power play work in the same firm. There is Cadene (Olivier Soler), one of her bosses in headquarters, Delacroix (Roger Miremont), one of the two men who founded the firm, and Christophe (Fabrice Deville), the CEO’s son. Though Sandrine is able to climb the corporate ladder through seduction, it is only a matter of time until she meets her match. Sandrine jumps into the game out of curiosity, thinking that she has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Written and directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau, “Secret Things” is beautifully made and it works in bits and pieces. It is consistently interesting and believable until the ending touches upon surrealism which feels atonal. Also, the men could have been written more fully, as real people rather than objects with only one thing on their minds: sex, love, or power. In reality, whether it be men or women, a combination of such things are desired—which is no secret.