‘In Secret’: Paris noir

February 21, 2014


Love and murder – are there more crucial or basic ingredients for a good story? It’s like cooking and starting with chicken or beef stock: They are the building blocks from which the best recipes are constructed.

Charlie Stratton’s “In Secret” is based on Emile Zola’s “Therese Raquin” – but were it set in a different time period, it could have been a film noir like “Double Indemnity” or “The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

The set-up is surprisingly similar: A woman falls in love with a man who’s not her husband, who helps her eliminate her husband from the picture. And then the fun begins.

In this case, the wife is Therese (Elizabeth Olsen), an orphan who is taken in by Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), a friend of her family who has a son of her own, Camille (Tom Felton of “Harry Potter” fame). Eventually, both Camille and Therese grow up and Madame Raquin takes it upon herself to match the two of them in marriage.

Camille is obviously smitten with Therese and his mother sees her cowed young daughter-in-law as a surrogate housekeeper and maid. Eventually, Camille moves them into a poor part of Paris, where he works in an office. Madame opens a small shop, with Therese as her assistant and all-around dogsbody.

One night, Camille brings home a friend from work – Laurent (Oscar Isaac), a handsome young man who immediately falls for Therese and vice versa. Before long, they have started to meet secretly and, eventually, plot how to get rid of Camille so they can run away together.

The killing happens but the running away? Not so much. Instead, Therese finds herself tied to Madame Raquin, forced to pretend grief, even as she copes with the horror of what she’s done. And, as it inevitably does, guilt tears the lovers apart. They can’t live together but they can’t be rid of each other.

Shot in gloomy, dingy sets that capture the grime of a world in which oil lamps and coal stoves dominate, “In Secret” builds to a climax of startling power, but not before putting the audience through the same hell that Therese suffers. Olsen has a stunning ability to make what is interior seem clear and obvious; you can read her thoughts in her eyes, even as she masks her true feelings from both Madame Raquin and Laurent.

Isaac brings a blend of politesse and rakishness to Laurent: He’s flummoxed by the depth of his feelings for Therese, but equally surprised at the strength of his self-revulsion when he does what needs to be done to have her. The cat-eyed Lange has an imperiousness that blinds her to what’s happening around her until it’s too late for her to do anything about it.

“In Secret” is a stylish, nervy film, one that captures the manners and mores of its 19th-century setting while making the emotions it deals with utterly contemporary. You don’t need to know Zola’s original to get caught up in this adaption of one of his most intense works.

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