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Film Review: French Classic Of Family Betrayal Told 'In Secret'

Phil Bray
Roadside Attractions

Jessica Lange has been absent from the movie screens of late, focusing on chewing up the scenery on the small screen for three seasons of the FX series American Horror Story.

In the new film version of Émile Zola’s "Thérèse Raquin" called In Secret, Lange is the scheming matriarch in a single parent home in 19th century Paris who ill-advisedly locks her son and niece together in a passionless marriage. And as fans of the show know, Lange makes a very good schemer.

Elizabeth Olsen plays the grown-up Thérèse, who’s dumped at her aunt’s front door as a child and grows up sleeping in the same bed as her tubercular cousin, Camille (Tom Felton). Unrelated to the arranged marriage, Thérèse becomes a young woman rabidly curious about sex in a way that blossoms from voyeurism to active participant – but not, tellingly, with her double-related husband. She’s consumed instead by Laurent (Oscar Isaac from Inside Llewyn Davis), an artist friend of her husband. Behind everyone’s backs, their coupling becomes a furtive daily event, with neither showing a pang of remorse.

Madame Raquin (Lange), despite her evident guile, is clueless about the affair; since she’s the ventriloquist behind the marriage, she’s confident nothing could quake it. When she does finally suspect, it comes from a state of helplessness and an irreparable shroud of silence - and much too late for her son. Nor should it be a surprise that an affair as heated as that between Thérèse and Laurent should grow less combustible once it’s legitimized.

It’s the classic case of people regretting what they’ve wished for. Before the consequential, scary second half (which won’t be spoiled here), the film is largely content to set up the building blocks of the plot. There are bucolic scenes in the country before the move to Paris and, once in the city, candlelit evenings playing dominos and women getting “the vapors.” But even then, it has a palpable sense of mood and place and, when the heat is on between Olsen and Isaac, it’s incendiary.


In Secret| Dir. Charlie Stratton | 101 minutes | Playing at Cinemark Palace at the Plaza, 500 Nichols Road, Kansas City, Mo.; Glenwood Arts, 9575 Metcalf, Overland Park, Kan.; and AMC Studio 30, 12075 So. Strang Line Road, Olathe, Kan. 


Up To Date Film
Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.