Secrets & Lies

In the last few days, have spent a lot of time watching movies – on my TV screen, on the laptop, and even smaller versions – on the minuscule video screens in the flights. Some of them have been quite rewarding – most specifically Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies. It was almost a delight to watch, not in the least for its happy ending, which amidst a score of tragic tales of most good cinema seemed like a welcome breeze. It is the story of a working class white woman (Cynthia), who has an illegitimate daughter . However, in a few clouded conversations between her brother Maurice and his wife, we learn that somewhere there was another illegitimate child who was given up for adoption even before Cynthia could see the newborn. (In fact, most of what we learn of the movie is through these clouded conversations between different people) . Parallely, we also see a black young optometrist (Hortense) trying to find out about her real parents.

When the two woman finally meet as Hortense tracks down her mother, is the most powerful and well-played out scene in the movie. Cynthia is surprised at seeing a black woman and is convinced that there is something wrong with the records, but the slow sinking in of reality is so momentous – with horror, excitement, affection and a terrible despair, all emotions rushing
in with force and awkwardness.

There are so many secrets in the movie – everyone is terrified of opening up and baring themselves, as if there will be an explosion if they do so. With all these secrets, there is a terrible restraint in all relationships, which stay coldly cordial on the surface, and you can perceive the constant stretching, until everything explodes at a family gathering.

Almost everything was right with the movie – the strong characters and actors who adopted those characters with an entirety, the build-up of the tension, specially at the family reunion, the subtlety of every scene and the helplessness of Maurice, who is stretched with all these secrets between his love for his wife and his sister’s family.The scenes of his photo shoots, where he works hard to create illusions and hide the secrets between families with his happy pictures, are a metaphoric summarizing of what he also does in his personal life. On the other hand is Hortense, who, as an optometrist, wants to see things clearly, without any haziness. With her composure and sophistication, she is a contrast to the entire family, who spend the majority of their lives in a state of high emotional tension.

I remember that a long time ago I saw a french movie on a similar theme, where an unspoken secret keeps a family apart for years, until at a funeral the daughters succumb to the tension and speak out. It was a brilliant movie and equally well done. I am breaking my head over trying to find the name – without success so far. Anyone?

4 thoughts on “Secrets & Lies

  1. i can’t think of the film though it does ring a bell…actually it is a very familiar dramatic device… bring all the people together. show them hesitant and tense in the beginning, ratchet it up and then reveal some dark and disturbing secret… It is very well suited to one act plays. There is a Danish film The Celebration by Thomas Vinterberg which won many awards which follows exact same prototype.. and also Monsoon Wedding.


  2. Im pleased you chased up Secrets and Lies . So did you get it in India or Oz? The beauty of the movie is in its faithful reflection of the 90s Britain – a confluence of a myriad new and old identities into a sense of britishness in a pro-labour, post-modern climate. Something of White Teeth. Regard even the smallest charecters — the chap who wants to get back to studio? Or the secretary who just has one line at the end which opens her life to the viewer. Thats the beauty of the movie.Festen by Tom Vinterberg is a class of its own. It cant be compared. Monsoon wedding is Nair taking down notes on how to concieve and direct a scene at her NY Film school. It became popular because it filled in teh space tahtw as empty. Could someone explain the scene how suddenly people start talking about kissing/ how to and how not to in the wedding? It feels as if its a big montage collage. Anyway, I think your french movie could be Secret de ma mere whcih had the classical French treatment. But I dont know how long is long back for you? thats teh one I can think of now. There is barbarian Invasions on similar theme -which won the oScar but I thought it was overrated.


  3. It was a rather good recommendation – thanks. I found it in India itself, luckily. I do not know enough about the British culture, but what was remarkable was that though race was a point of contention, somehow none of the ire in the final scene quite found its way to it – no one seemed to even think about it as an issue. I don’t know if that was very British.BTW, it is neither of the two movies. I saw the movie in 2001, and in a film festival in Delhi, so I assume it must have been around for at least an year.I have had Festen on my viewing list for sometime – will try to find it in Aussie land – now that I am going to be there again for a long time 😦


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