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The Secrets We Keep Movie Review: A Post-WWII Story About Trauma

The Secrets We Keep Movie Review: A Post-WWII Story About Trauma

Yuval Adler's The Secrets We Keep is a post-World War 2 drama where a woman tries to exact revenge from a man who she believes subjected her to war crimes.

The Secrets We Keep

Director: Yuval Adler

Cast: Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Chris Messina, Amy Seimetz, Jackson Vincent

Israeli director Yuval Adler’s latest outing, The Secrets We Keep (on BookMyShow Stream) appears to have been heavily inspired by Roman Polanski’s 1994 Death and the Maiden, starring stalwarts like Ben Kingsley, Stuart Wilson and Sigourney Weaver. In Polanski’s drama, Weaver’s character imprisons the man who is essayed by Kingsley. He is supposed to have raped and tortured her in what is presumably Chile.

Adler takes us to a small town in Louisiana. The period is 1959/1960; we see a cinema playing Alfred Hitchcock’s pacy North By Northwest, with Cary Grant portraying a man made to run along a cornfield with a small plane trying to smash him!

The Secrets We Keep has no such pulse-pounding chase, but is largely cerebral plotting the story of a woman, Maja (Naomi Rapace), who along with her husband, Lewis (Chris Messina), and little son, Patrick (Jackson Vincent), lives in domestic bliss in the town. Lewis is a physician, and he is unaware of the secret his wife, a Romanian, is carrying.

We all know that a whole lot of people, Nazis in particular, disappeared after the war, taking on new identities. It may sound incredible – but quite true – that not many Nazis were found in Germany after the hostilities ended! It is one such Nazi soldier, SS officer Karl (Joel Kinnaman), that Maja spots one morning. At first, she is not sure if that is the guy who had raped her and killed her sister when the retreating Hitler’s army attacked some Romas as they were fleeing a concentration camp.

As Maja follows Karl for several days, she realises, much to her horror, that the man is indeed him, who is now living under an assumed name and married to an American woman with two kids.

A desperate Maja kidnaps Karl, bundles him into the trunk of her car, brings him to her house and ties him up in her basement. All she wants from him is a confession that he is Karl and that he had abused her – a trauma that had evoked nightmares in her and forced her to see a psychiatrist.

The story weaves around how Maja befriends Karl’s family to learn more about him, and how she and Lewis quarrel over the prisoner. Lewis is not at all sure that the guy is Karl, but Maja says that she can never forget his eyes as he ravished her.

The twist, when it comes, is not quite expected, but Adler probably wanted to take us away from Polanski’s work. The movie is packed with some drama – an attempted escape, a police visit and neighbours’ suspicion. But these are not quite enough to keep us in thrall. And for those who have watched Death and the Maiden, The Secrets We Keep, may appear a bit flat considering that it is a fallout of one of the most heinous crimes the world has witnessed.

But yes, Adler keeps us guessing about Karl, and we keep wondering whether he is really the culprit as Maja makes him out to be. And Rapace gives one of her strongest English-language portrayals, getting hysterical and refusing to play the victim card. The pain in her eyes is disturbing, and we see a horrific chapter from Nazi history.

Rating: 2.5/5

(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a movie critic and Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s biographer)

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first published:May 21, 2021, 12:32 IST