Synopsis: Two young women discover the power of sex to get what they want in the male-dominated business world. Nathalie, a performance artist-stripper, instructs her new friend, the beautiful but inexperienced Sandrine, on the art of seduction. Without delay they put their skills to the test at a Parisian bank, where both rise to the top. But they meet their match in the ruthless son the bank’s president – a vain, unbridled, power-hungry monster.
Choses secrètes 7.75
‘Choses secrètes’ is the first part of a trilogy (including ‘Les anges exterminateurs‘ and ‘À l’aventure‘) by writer-director Jean-Claude Brisseau on female sexuality. It is considered by some as being part of the New French Extremity. It must noted, however, that most of the films associated with that movement are in the horror/suspense genre. This one isn’t.
If this film is transgressive in any way, it’s in its overt sexuality. It’s no especially shocking given that, over the years, there have been an increasing number of films that dance on that line between erotica and pornography, or fiction and reality, in that the actors sometimes have actual sexual relations on screen (ex: ‘9 Songs‘, ‘Ai no corrida’, ‘Bedways’, ‘Brown Bunny’, ‘Destricted’, ‘Diavolo in corpo’, ‘Shortbus’). At the very least, the staging is such that one can’t help but wonder how they could possibly fake it, get away with it.
The on-screen sex in ‘Choses secrètes’, while not as graphic as in some films, would make some people uncomfortable; it’s very in-your-face and there is plenty of it – at least in the first part of the film, before the drama takes over. There are a lot of extremely intense moments, including the plentiful scenes of masturbation by the two girls – solo or together. There was also a short orgy sequence that left very little to the imagination. Yum.
The movie begins with our protagonist being a voyeur and then discovering exhibitionism through her new gal pal. I’m not much of a voyeur myself, but there was something captivating about watching the two young women discovering the excitement of public displays of naughtiness. ‘Choses secrètes’ then turns towards the use of sex for manipulation, in the achievement of personal goals. As much as it’s a notion that offends me, I recognize that it’s not uncommon and nonetheless found it a fascinating exploration.
I liked that the sex acts looked natural in the moments when they should be, in true moments of intimacy, and that they would look relatively false in moments when the girls were using sex to manipulate, when they were performing. That was a nice touch by the director and actors. But one had to keep it in mind, because, otherwise, it would be easy to dismiss the sequences as Hollywood drivel. Which this wasn’t, even though ‘Choses secrètes’ echoed ’70s or late-night cable erotica – albeit with class and style.
I found the casting interesting, in that neither of the girls were beautiful in the most conventional sense. Our protagonist, Sandrine, played here by Sabrina Seyvecou, is a lovely, but somewhat Plain Jane, who has a playful side to her. Her friend, Nathalie, played by Coralie Revel, is sexier, but has a half-alien, half-feline face which is not exactly beautiful – nothing a little make-up won’t fix, though. Anyway, I really enjoyed that Brisseau chose to work with “real” people instead of model or porn star types.
The guys weren’t at all perfect either, although they had the requisite rugged, alpha male quality that some consider sexy despite the empirical evidence to the contrary. Actually, this must be the only reason for Fabrice Deville’s casting in the picture, because I found him neither that attractive nor a good actor; he was by far the weakest of the lot, being far too theatrical for my taste. Everyone else, however served up very naturalistic performances throughout.
My only real beefs with the film are that it feels slightly déjà vu, aside from the taboo-obliterating sexual displays; at the very least, we’ve gotten a similar dynamic from ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, what with the power games and the use of sex as a tool in such games. As well, the ending wasn’t convincing because the actors weren’t aged enough or weathered enough to sell the passage of time. That was unfortunate to say the least, because it felt like little girls play-acting. As scripted, it was fine, but the execution failed the script miserably.
In the end, I’d certainly suggest ‘Choses secrètes’ for a decent night of erotic cinema. The story is nothing new, but, let’s face it, nothing is; we are always replaying the same stories with minor changes to keep things interesting. What matters here is that the film was delivered with style and substance. And it certainly was. As for the hot stuff… well, it’s smoldering. I would be surprised that not one bit of it would stir the imagination. Unless they were easily offended, that is. Otherwise, it has its moments – and, for some, plenty to go around.