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“In Secret”

“In Secret”
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A confession: I love Emile Zola, and I especially love his 1867 novel “Therese Raquin”.  Does that mean I am more or less likely to appreciate the new film version, now titled “In Secret”, by first time feature director Charlie Stratton?  It’s an interesting question.  Does intimacy with a book ruin or enhance one’s enjoyment of a film?

I think it can go either way. I loved “Cloud Atlas”, but hated the film.  As for “In Secret”, I appreciated much about it, even though it doesn’t completely portray the emotional turbulence of Therese Raquin’s life.

Played by Elizabeth Olsen (“Oldboy”) with voluptuous restraint, Therese is an orphaned child left to live with her aunt Mme. Raquin (Jessica Lange) in the French provinces and pushed into a loveless marriage with her sickly, asexual cousin Camille (Tom Felton). As a single woman in the 19th century, Therese has no recourse but to accept the home and protection of the Raquins and they all move to Paris where Camille has been offered a menial administrative job. Mme. Raquin opens a dingy drapery shop on a dark secluded street and Therese whiles away the hours in wretched boredom and sexual frustration. Camille (even his name suggests gender neutrality) is too sick, too sexless to try to satisfy Therese who exists in a limbo state of servitude to her compassionless mother-in-law.

When Laurent (Oscar Isaac) enters the shop, Camille’s friend from work, Therese perks up. Initially put off by Laurent’s brusque, earthy ways (he’s a painter with an office day job), she is intrigued by his base male-ness and brooding sensuality. Isaac, so brilliant in “Inside Llewyn Davis” infuses Laurent with such raw sexuality and magnetism that everything that follows makes sense. Therese, so unfulfilled, responds to him like tinder to a flame. Their secret lovemaking in the apartment above the shop, with Mme. Raquin nearby, is explosive and reckless, but essential to Therese’s survival.

But Zola’s masterpiece of Naturalism is about more than sexual desire. It’s about guilt and how remorse can eat away at a person’s soul and destroy everything in its path. After a boating “accident” that leaves Camille dead, and a series of strokes that render Mme. Raquin paralyzed, Therese and Laurent are free to continue their affair. And here’s where the film falls short. With just a couple of shots of the ghostly dead Camille, who haunts the lovers’ bed, Stratton fails to express the true horror of what the couple is experiencing as their love is destroyed by the memory of their actions.

Stratton, who also wrote the screenplay, does a great job building the tension to the sexual climax, but now falters as the film speeds towards the anti-climactic ending. Without piercing insight into the characters’ minds, it’s hard to connect the dots to their eventual actions. The devolving of their love just happens too quickly, thereby lessening the impact of the finale.

But there is much to admire here. The moody cinematography by Florian Hoffmeister captures the grime of 1860s Paris as well as the claustrophobia of Therese’s prison, Olsen and Isaac have intense chemistry and Lange is effective using only her eyes to portray her emotions.  It might not be enough to win box-office approval, but maybe it’s enough to drive audiences to Zola’s masterful work.






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