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SECRET THINGS (CHOSES SECRETES) (director/writer: Jean-Claude Brisseau; cinematographer: Wilfred Sempe; editor: Maria Luisa Garcia; music: Julien Civange; cast: Coralie Revel (Nathalie), Sabrina Seyvecou (Sandrine), Roger Mirmont (Delacroix), Fabrice Deville (Christophe), Blandine Bury (Charlotte), Olivier Soler (Cadene), Viviane Théophildès (Mme. Mercier); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jean-Claude Brisseau/Jean-Francois Geneix; First Run Features; 2002-France-in French with English subtitles)
“I wouldn’t entirely dismiss it, but I would be reluctant to say I found too much about it that warmed my heart and appeased my soul.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A feminine version of Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men about hustling your way to the top in the workplace. French writer-director Jean-Claude Brisseau’s (“Noce Blanche”) personal obsession film is a forceful but utterly preposterous erotic fable that misses the mark as an arthouse film but succeeds, I think, as one of beguiling softcore-porn lesbian melodrama, thanks to the wonderful performances by the two erotic actresses who surprisingly for a film like this can also act. Brisseau is a protégé of Eric Rohmer, who despite this film’s kinkiness and decadence aims to make it in its more subtle moments (few and far between) a morality tale revolving around class struggle and fear of never expressing one’s true desires. It’s a well crafted film with a certain amount of intelligence and witty dialogue, but gets submerged in so many other tawdry similar soap opera tales and an overbaked attempt to say something meaningful by saying something ridiculous. Unfortunately the risible story line leads the viewer on in an exploitative manner befitting such a bizarre and trashy concept, until it settles in as a film that has enough of the societal unacceptable and perverse in a relationship to possibly satisfy even the most jaded libertine hedonist with incest, lesbian romance, a ménage à trois in the workplace, a manipulative adultery between a man and a woman, a Devil-inspired orgy and finally a murder.

It’s a story about two young chicks with hot bods, the naive Sandrine (Sabrina Seyvecou) and the worldly (Coralie Revel), who get bounced by the pig owner of the strip club for not prostituting themselves for his customers in addition to their regular jobs–Nathalie is the featured naked erotic dancer who gets off when the customers get overexcited while ogling her and Sandrine the barmaid, who looks up to the nihilist philosophizing dancer as a role-model. Sandrine moves into Nathalie’s pad after they tell each other that they’re not lesbos. Nathalie takes on the role of mentor–teaching her apt pupil how to masturbate and get off, be an exhibitionist who digs the attention as a form of sexual stimulation, fend off men who want a quick bang and how to make suitors want her so much they go crazy as she fakes loving them and when they fall in love how to break their heart by rejecting them for another woman. The bitchy soulmates become passionate lovers and soon extend their private dare games out in the public (they masturbate in the station of the Metro), and then set out to prove that they can use their sexual powers to climb the corporate ladder. They both dress up as yuppie professionals and get secretarial jobs in the same established financial firm with the purpose of getting those in power to fall so much in love with them that they lose their inhibitions and then they will exert power over them by reversing the way men usually use women in the workplace.

Sandrine sets her sights on the workaholic 49-year-old happily married man with two teenage children who never cheated on his wife, the mild mannered CEO Delacroix (Roger Mirmont). He’s the trusted second in command to the firm’s elderly dying founder, Monsieur Barnay, who proves to be an easy and pitiful mark as she quickly rises to become his personal secretary and lover. Nathalie entertains the top boy, the firm’s handsome bad boy and emotionally cold and dangerously manipulative General Director Christophe Barnay (Fabrice Deville), the spoiled hedonist son of the bank founder who will inherit the whole works when his dad dies. He has a younger sister, Charlotte (Blandine Bury), who he treats as his lover. Christophe has a history of scoring many women and then cruelly dumping them, even driving two of them to commit suicide by setting fire to themselves in his presence. But things don’t go as Nathalie plans, as she disobeys her rule book on romance and falls in love with the Machiavellian Christophe. When Christophe proves too much for Nathalie, the mousy Sandrine will take over the challenge of the game and transform herself into a daring femme fatale. But because of her real passionate love for Christophe (disobeying what she learned from her mentor) the film will build to a truly bitter unromantic off-the-wall ending that makes it hard for me to believe that anyone can take it seriously, including the filmmaker. I wouldn’t entirely dismiss it, but I would be reluctant to say I found too much about it that warmed my heart and appeased my soul.

This titillating erotic fantasy film was named Film of the Year by the reputable Cahiers du Cinema, proving that sex sells even to hardened critics, especially, when the performers can get you hot.

REVIEWED ON 12/1/2004 GRADE: C +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”