Dir: Virginie Wagon. France. 2000. 107mins.
Prod cos: Productions Bagheera, France 3 Cinema, Diaphana Films. Int'l sales: Mercure Distribution, tel: (33) 1 44 108 844. Exec prod: Francois Marquis. Scr: Wagon, Erick Zonca. DoP: Jean-Marc Fabre. Ed: Yannick Kergoat. Prod des: Brigitte Brassart. Sound: Ludovic Henault, Stephane Thiebaut. Cost des: Brigitte Slama. Main cast: Anne Coesens, Michel Bompoil, Tonny Todd, Jacqueline Jehanneuf.
With a prize-winning short to her directing credit, Virginie Wagon, who co-wrote and was 'artistic collaborator' on Erick Zonca's international arthouse hit The Dream Life Of Angels, takes the plunge into features with The Secret (Le Secret), and comes up with an above-average take on the popular French sport of adultery. There are no major new wrinkles on the theme, but as told largely from the female standpoint, it is a well-observed tale of the dissatisfactions of middle-class marriage.
The script, again by Wagon and Zonca, follows a successful 35-year-old door-to-door encyclopaedia saleswoman (Coesens) who, through her calls, meets a black American dancer who has come to Paris to chill out at a friend's villa. Despite a warm home life - a loving husband and a two-year-old child - Coesens' dormant sexual longings are stirred by the American.
After much hesitation, she initiates an affair. Although purely sexual, the liaison completely upsets her sense of self and raises questions about her marriage. When she returns home one night covered in love bites, she makes no attempt to conceal them from her husband, who responds with confusion, hurt and rage. Their marriage teeters.
Wagon is fine at charting the subconscious tremors of desire and in newcomer Coesens reveals an actress with an emotional range and strength at times reminiscent of Juliette Binoche. Michel Bompoil has easy warmth and moving flashes of hurt and rage as the wronged husband. As the American hunk, Tony Todd fills the bill easily with wry humour and sexual heat.
By dealing with an overfamiliar theme in a classical manner, Wagon limits the risks of her debut, but it is clear that she is a talented addition to France's growing ranks of female directors.