The Secret (Si j'étais toi) (2007)

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Released 8-Apr-2009

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer-2.00 : Good trailer, 2.35:1 and 16x9. Quality as for feature
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-8.24) :Candid glimpse Director Vincent Perez, cast and crew
Interviews-Cast-12.04/1.33:1 Lili Taylor on location. Absorbing & talented
Interviews-Cast-9.26)/1.33:1 David Duchovny. A bit vague, but personable .
Interviews-Cast-8.49) 1.33:1 Olivia Thirlby - a tremendous new talent .
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 87:59
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (66:07) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Vincent Perez
Studio
Distributor
Europa Corp.
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring David Duchovny
Olivia Thirlby
Lili Taylor
Millie Tresierra
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Nathaniel Mechaly


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Optometrist Duchovny examining patient.

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Plot Synopsis

   

                       

    There has been a minor flood of releases from Beyond Home Entertainment, including some unusual and interesting titles. Of major interest is D.W. Griffith's 1919 masterpiece Broken Blossoms, which I shall be reviewing shortly,  as well as considerably more recent offerings, such as The Secret a film from the very productive Europa Corp (Love and Other Disasters). The Secret is not a total success, very few films are, and as far as I can make out has received a theatrical release in only France, South Korea and Mexico. Elsewhere its fate has been "direct to DVD", but do not be put off. There is much here to admire and praise, and very little to condemn, with the final result an experience that stays with you long after the disc has been removed from the DVD player.

        Dr Benjamin Marris (David Duchovny)  is an optometrist, with his picture perfect home in leafy suburban Montreal. He adores his wife, Hannah (Lili Taylor), and her passion for him is equally as strong. They have a teenage daughter, Samantha (Olivia Thirlby), who is in typical teenage rebellion mode, although most of the rebellion is aimed at her mother rather than her adoring Dad. We spend almost half an hour learning about these three people, witnessing the deep love and attraction the parents have for each other, and the continuing antagonism between the generally angry Sam and her rather passive mother, who is seen by her daughter to be a failure in life. Hannah's self expression is channelled into photography, but Sam despises her mother's endeavours, calling her an amateur. Then, with this trio of characters firmly established, a terrible accident takes place, with Hannah seriously injured, and Sam near death. As the two lie in adjacent cots in the hospital, Sam stops breathing, and in a moment of maternal terror and desperation, Hannah's spirit is transferred to the daughter's body. The distraught and grieving Ben is confronted by a person he sees to be his daughter, but who claims to be his wife. The two return to the Marris home, to a situation fraught with emotional and moral perils.

    Based on a 1999 Japanese film, Himitsu, Ann Cherkis's screenplay is tight and intelligent. Perhaps it does not deliver everything we might expect, but there is enough substance here to more than fill the just under ninety minute running time, and to tantalise the mind for days after. The European title for the film indicates the theme of empathy which dominates the film : Si j'etas toi (If I Was You), and by the time the final titles roll, each of the three principals has learnt more about the other two, with the final "message" of the film one of optimism and hope. Vincent Perez, sometimes actor (I Dreamed of Africa and The Crow : City of Angels), here is wearing the director's cap, and he does a masterful job. Whether it is the intimate scenes between the parents, the teens at school and parties, or the film's one action sequence, Perez's direction is assured yet unobtrusive. Aided by some superb camera work from Director of Photography Paul Sarossy (Where the Truth Lies / The Wicker Man), a beautifully subdued autumnal palette, and a superb symphonic score by Nathaniel Mechaly (Taken) , the entire film looks and sounds beautiful.

    As well as being blessed with a fine director, The Secret has an outstanding trio of actors in the lead roles. David Duchovny is a  sensitive actor, who can be squeaky clean charming (Return to Me) or downright sleazy (Californication). Here he is closer to his Return to Me characterisation, which is another film in which Mr Duchovny loses a wife - ironically played by the recently deceased Natasha Richardson - only to find her, or at least part of her, living inside another being. Any shortcomings here are not the actor's fault, but that of a script which avoids the deeper and darker waters. With relatively short screen time, Lili Taylor is wonderful. Miss Taylor's failure to get a nomination for Dogfight in 1999, is one of  Oscar's greatest oversights. In order for this film to work the mother's personality has to be indelibly established in that first half hour, and Lili Taylor's Hannah permeates the rest of the film. Central to this success is the outstanding performance of Olivia Thirlby, who here is making her first screen appearance. Now known for her role as Ellen Page's girlfriend in Juno, Olivia Thirlby is astonishing as she alternates between being the teenage Sam to the thirty-something Hannah. There is no attempt to mimic Lili Taylor, but Taylor's inflections and speech patterns become part of this young actress's performance. Some of the film's best moments come when "Hannah" has to attend school as the teenage Sam, and in doing so is astonished at what she discovers about her daughter's life. The situation is not unlike that of Freaky Friday, but here definitely not played for comedy, although there is a natural humour in some of the situations and revelations.

    Given the situation of the characters, there are some, for want of a better word, "disappointments" in the dramatic developments of The Secret. Indeed, that very title implies more than is actually delivered. There was, however, more than enough here to enthral me for ninety minutes. You get a fascinating, though not original, premise, an intelligent script, highly accomplished direction, superlative photography, a beautiful symphonic score, two excellent performances from proven actors and a truly stunning debut from Olivia Thirlby. This is well worth seeing.
 

 

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer of this movie is excellent.
    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the original theatrical ratio, and is 16x9 enhanced.
    
    The transfer is extremely sharp, with a beautifully clear, smooth image.
    Shadow detail is excellent, and there is no low level noise.
    The colour is subdued and autumnal, with total consistency throughout the length of the film. The film looks gorgeous.
    There were no MPEG or film artefacts.
    There are no subtitles.
    The disc is dual layer with the change occurring at 66:07. There is a momentary pause in the action.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    This is a very good audio transfer, although underutilising the capabilities of  today's systems.
    There is one audio stream, English in Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 Kbps.
    The dialogue was clear with every subtle syllable reproduced with extreme clarity.
    There is not a trace of any sync problems.
    The symphonic score by Nathaniel Mechaly is outstanding, and beautifully reproduced making extensive use of all channels.
    Apart from this excellent music, little use is made of the surround speakers - with the exception of the one pivotal action sequence. For the remainder of the film it is front and centre, with little directionality, apart from one or two cars moving across the soundfield. There is some ambient surround, but barely noticeable.
    The subwoofer is active for that one brief action sequence referred to, as well as adding a solid underpinning to the dramatic orchestral score.
    

    

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

   The extras are rather minimal, although refreshingly different.

Menu

    The Main Menu utilises the portraits of David Duchovny and Olivia Thirlby used for the front of the slick, with soft rock music from the soundtrack. There is no animation.
    Options presented are : Play Movie
                                        Chapter Selection : Opens a separate screen with a half-face enlargement of the same Duchovny portrait with the end title song as audio.
                                                                        Twelve thumbnailed chapters are presented on three screens.
                                         Special Features : A separate screen offers :
                                                                                                             Theatrical Trailer
                                                                                                             Behind the Scenes : Behind the camera with director Vincent Perez
                                                                                                             Interviews  with : Lili Taylor
                                                                                                                                         David Duchovny
                                                                                                                                         Olivia Thirlby  
   

Theatrical Trailer : (2.00)
This is an excellent trailer which, unlike many, actually gives the viewer a good idea of what the film is about. The quality is on a par with the feature itself, presented in the ratio of 2.35:1 and 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded at  192 Kbps. .


Featurette : Behind the Scenes (8.24)
This brief extra contains a handful of short, fascinating glimpses of director Vincent Perez at work with his actors and crew. There are five separate sequences, all interesting for different reasons. The first scene has the "candid" camera focussed on the intent director as we listen to the voices of Duchovny and Thirlby off camera in a major argument scene. Could easily have taken more of this. Presented 1.33:1 in a 4x3 transfer.


Interviews : (30.19)
There is nothing here to illuminate the film, but these interviews do convey something of the actors involved. The two women are interviewed, apparently, on, or at least close to, location. Filmed in a sterile, bare studio and sandwiched between his two female co-stars, Duchovny (9.25) comes off worst, not really seeming to have a grip on the tone of the film, actually referring to it as a "thriller". As always, though, Mr Duchovny is a charming, attractive actor. By comparison Lili Taylor (12:04) positively glows with enthusiasm for the film as she crystallises her thoughts before our eyes. This is a delightful glimpse of this remarkable, under appreciated actress. Finally is the lovely, unaffected Olivia Thirlby. This is a  richly talented young actress who, I have no doubt, will become a major star, if that's what she is after.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 disc has Spanish subtitles. Apart from that there is no difference.
    

Summary

    Here is yet another worthwhile movie that slides onto the DVD shelves virtually unannounced. Cinema eggheads may say, "Not as good as the Japanese original", but I haven't seen the original, and I found this totally enthralling, even if on reflection it does lack a little substance. The style, however, more than compensates. Beautifully directed, shot and scored, with two excellent performances from David Duchovny and Lili Taylor. In her first screen appearance Olivia Thirlby is incandescent. For her alone, seek out this film. It is worth the effort.
    

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo-SP500, using Component output
DisplayPhilips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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