From Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1976 (vol. 43, no. 512). — J.R.
Secret, Le (The Secret)
Director: Robert Enrico
Strangling a guard, David Daguerre escapes from his cell in an unidentified building, and thumbs a ride to Paris. He borrows money from a former lover and takes a train to the country, where he meets Thomas Berthelot while looking for a place to hide. Thomas and his lover Julia Vandal invite David to stay over at their house and he accepts. But he refuses to specify who is pursuing him and why, intimating only that he witnessed something he wasn’t supposed to, was confined and tortured as a result, and that he (and now the couple) will be killed if ‘they’ find him again. Although Julia is reluctant to keep him on as a guest, Thomas insists on protecting him as a kind of antidote to his uneventful life. even when David steals their revolver. After deciding to leave, David is held back by the arrival of several soldiers, although they later prove to be on maneuvers. Thomas then suggests driving David to Marmizan and taking him in his boat to Spain, and over Julia’s protests they all set out in the couple’s camper. After evading a police barrier (where they’re told a dangerous lunatic has escaped) and other apparent threats, they find that the boat in Marmizan has sunk. Meanwhile, Julia has secretly written to her brother Claude in Paris — who is told by government officials that David is a dangerous paranoiac — and punctured the camper’s tires as a means of getting Thomas away. While the latter goes off to a garage, she seduces David and then tries unsuccessfully to take his gun. After Thomas’ return, she is appalled when he responds coolly to her infidelity. With Thomas’ help, David chases and kills a forester whom he believes is a policeman; Julia admits to puncturing the tires, and after attracting the police’s attention in a nearby town. takes David’s gun and shoots him. Men arrive at once, shoot both Julia and Thomas, and place the gun in David’s hand. The press reports that a maniac shot himself after killing a couple on holiday; and the narrator adds that Claude, having learnt “too much”, became the conspiracy’s next victim.
A minor and familiar if watchable exercise in suspenseful guessing-games. The Secret both benefits and suffers from a steady succession of red herrings and ambiguous clues which leave the whole question suspended of whether the hero is a paranoiac or the victim of a vast conspiratorial plot. From the beginning, when the loud sound of water dripping and vivid orange and greenish hues create a subjective context for David Daguerre’s nightmarish confinement — a kind of bracketing that recurs in all the subsequent flashbacks to this experience — a double-edged motivation for his frightened behavior is established even before the possibility of paranoia is explicitly introduced in the plot.. Yet what sustains this see-sawing ambiguity right up to the film’s closing moments is also what makes the whole game seem rather contrived and mechanical as soon as it is played out. The landing and fighting of soldiers outside the country house, for instance, provides a few effectively hyperbolic moments, but once it becomes clear that these men are on maneuvers, the whole incident ceases to have any further relevance to the intrigue, and is dropped from the plot like a disposable tissue. For a film to eat up its own tracks in such a simple-minded fashion qualifies it as little more than a light entertainment; and the sinister dénouement winds up seeming somewhat perfunctory because the ‘conspiracy’ remains so abstract and undefined — more an expedient narrative mechanism than a ‘social warning’ in the manner of The Parallax View, despite its portentous expression. What keeps The Secret afloat on such tenuous underpinnings are basically the three leads: Jean-Louis Trintignant, conveying neurotic dread with a kind of sweaty monotony, keeps the conspiracy theme going; the morose Marlène Jobert, suggesting here (as in La Décade Prodigieuse) a kind of poor man’s Stéphane Audran, amply serves to sustain the paranoia hypothesis. But by far the most enjoyable member of the cast is Philippe Noiret, playing a jovial bear-like slob who wavers between these possibilities while contriving intermittently to suggest — through the lazy freedom and generosity of his own behavior — that neither of these options matter a whit. Pursuing adventure and ‘commitment’ simply for their own sake, he makes an agreeable stand-in for the more modest desires of the film’s makers and spectators alike.